Light on the Darkest Day – The Winter Solstice at the Passage Tomb at Newgrange

Sunrise in the Boyne Valley

Sunrise in the Boyne Valley by John McKeown

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.


A Frosty Morning at Newgrange by John McKeown

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 –

Author: Guest

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  1. My wife and I were just at Newgrange last May and heard about this. I get chills just thinking about it.

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  2. Newgrange is so amazing. As someone who is very big into history and ancient religions, it tends to draw my awe more than most places. People think Stonehenge is amazing, Newgrange is, to me, far more enchanting.

    Then again, that may just be the Irish in me talking. 😛

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  3. Winter Solstice at New Grange would be Awesome! It’s the the Winter version of Summer Solstice at Stonehenge. Only New Grange would have more meaning for me. When we went to Southwest Kerry & Cork last year we visited as many power spots as we could fit in. I literally hugged all the Ogham stones and standing stones in circles on the Beara Peninsula. Also traced crosses in stone at St Gobnait’s monastic site. Ireland for me has been a spiritual journey. Can hardly wait to go back to experience more of the spiritual energy!

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  4. Today is the Big Day….

    The winter solstice, I wonder if that ray of light has now illuminated New Grange? It sure would be fun if someone posted a picture of it all lit up inside by the sun.

    Next best thing to being there…

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