Light on the Darkest Day – The Winter Solstice at the Passage Tomb at Newgrange
Submitted by John McKeown
It is the first bleak days of December 2009 in Ireland. The country has endured dreadful hardship from flooding in recent weeks; the economic indicators are depressing as the country awaits the most horrific Budget ever to be delivered by any Finance Minister and the days are getting shorter and shorter. Darkness dominates the Irish landscape as we approach the shortest day of the year. It is easy to be solemn and negative in our thinking.
But I am happy! For December brings to Ireland the Winter Solstice at Newgrange in County Meath – one of the great combined natural/man-made events of the world brought to us by the genius and the ghosts of the Neolithic Age, some 5,000 years ago. It is an awesome sight to behold.
This wonderful event takes place for a few days around the winter solstice each year, when the passage and chamber of the 5,000 year old monument are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber. The dramatic event lasts for 17 minutes at dawn from the 19th to the 23rd of December. It comes about as a result of a miraculous and enduringly complex mathematical equation produced by a people who lacked the computers we have to today. To experience it sends a shiver down my back as I think of how advanced our forefathers of five millennia ago were.
I haven’t missed one for years, dignitaries, politicians and academics always have priority to be inside the chamber for the event, but every September a lottery is held for those interested in being inside on the actual day. I would advise anybody has given up hopes winning this lottery to consider coming to Newgrange and watch from the outside either on the day or the days immediately before or after the 21st December. If you are prepared to be there early, you will have every opportunity of seeing it in all its splendour. The atmosphere is eerie as the sun rises slowly and lights up the Boyne Valley, it is a glorious event. You can imagine how this must have felt in Neolithic times!
After the dignitaries are gone you get the chance to go inside the chamber and they re-create the event. I wonder how this must have felt in Neolithic times!
And then, minute by minute, the days get longer and our spirits soar above the darkness. Our hopes are high once again for a great New Year.
Brought to you by John McKeown of Look Around Ireland – The Ireland Travel Guide – www.lookaroundireland.com