Winter Solstice sunrise at Newgrange - 21st December 2004
There was a perfect sunrise on the 19th
and again on the 21st December, the actual morning of the winter
mid-point in 2004. About 200 people were present to welcome
the sunrise on a bright frosty morning.
Slow farewell to Winter after a dazzling Solstice
by Eileen Battersby printed in The Irish Times newspaper on the 22nd December 2004.
Fingers of pink began to disperse the stars as the longest night of the year
slowly surrendered to dawn. Honouring a late 20th-century practice, created by
ancient man long before modern archaeologists had studied the calculated
alignment of science and nature, Newgrange watchers gathered at the majestic
Late Stone Age monument in Co Meath yesterday. Drawn by the hope of watching the
rising sun herald the decline of winter, both the ticket-holding elite and the
onlookers standing outside were magnificently rewarded.
For many pilgrims, attendance at Bru Na Boinne is part of an annual ritual
marking the start of Christmas. For others, arriving with expressions of
anticipation, and some uncertainty, it was a new experience. "Will Santa be
here?" asked one little boy, who quickly answered his own question, "I
know, he's still really busy at the North Pole." Other watchers looked to
the sky and smiled knowingly. Multi-coloured woollen hats and other seasonal
headwear did suggest the morning was far colder than it was. Despite the icy
roads, the temperature was no sharper than brisk. There was no wind. A filigree
of cloud maintained a respectful distance. So clear had the brightening sky
become by 8.30 that the large crowd collectively relaxed, confident of sharing a
glory devised by nature and brilliantly recognised by early man.
A young woman draped in a rainbow muffler arrived solemn faced and carrying a
yellow lantern. She stood at the outside wall of the monument, looking east. A
small white dog pattered about, sat and prepared to groom herself as if in
preparation for the coming spectacle. Two men in business suits surveyed the
scene. "There's no druids," said one of them. His companion took
another look before announcing: "I think they tend to be based at
Tara." Below the local horizon, topped by its tree-lined ridge, the River
Boyne emerging from the light mist was a motionless silver ribbon. Outside the
monument, a triumph of science and spirituality, there was no tension, no
anxious whispers. No black clouds arrived to threaten the outcome. Sunrise,
during the five mornings of the mid-winter solstice, enjoys a far greater
significance than throughout the rest of the year. On no other morning, bar
Easter Day, is the sun as symbolic.
Across the valley, a yellow light began to rise as if from behind the ridge.
The crowd chatted on. The light became brighter, even more yellow. At 8.52, a
slim golden blister appeared. On cue, the onlookers cheered. As the glow
increased, the hillside retreated into shadow. By 8.55 the sun was moving
faster, climbing higher. Its powerful beam had found its heart, the roofbox of
the monument built by the ancients in honour of their dead.
Meanwhile, the great boulder-like standing stones that seem to guard the
entrance, basked in the light. Ironically, the pilgrims, having turned their
backs to the sun, now looked towards the long, narrow passageway about to be
illuminated. Cameras were hoisted. Members of the gardaí smiled benignly.
Inside the chamber, darkness began to yield to the golden beam that proceeded up
the sanded floor of the passage. On dull mornings the party inside the chamber
discuss other solstices, years in which the sun made a triumphant appearance.
Yesterday was perfection. In the flood of warm honey light mere words became
redundant. Tom Parlon, Minister of State for the Office of Public works exited
the passageway as if he had seen a vision, a rare experience for any politician.
The emerging photographers looked so smug, those standing outside could only
squeeze their camera in silent frustration.
The same little dog who had groomed herself now dashed towards the passageway
in search of fame, or at least a photo. She was apprehended by her embarrassed
owner. "I didn't want her to spoil the sacred moment." She didn't. No
one could have.
Later a much smaller group of solstice pilgrims gathered at Dowth
, another of
the Boyne Valley ceremonial mounds. After a day of beautiful skies, a fine
sunset was expected. The clouds decided otherwise. A startled bat fluttered
about the chamber. Light faded. Even so, Winter had now begun its slow farewell.
Eileen Battersby - The Irish Times.
The fortunate few inside the chamber at Newgrange viewing the winter solstice
system is used to allocated places in the chamber for the mornings around
the winter solstice, however on the 21st of December they are joined by
invited dignitaries. This year the dignitaries included Tom Parlon -
Minister of State, Sean Benton - Chairman of the Office of Public Works
and Stuart Eldon the British Ambassador.
Newgrange casts spell on the press
by Liam Fay printed in
The Sunday Times December 26, 2004.
Winter Solstice photographs by Alan Betson
Boyne Valley Private Day Tours
Pick up and return to your accommodation or cruise ship. Suggested day tour:
Newgrange World Heritage site, 10th century High Crosses at Monasterboice,
Hill of Tara the seat of the High Kings of Ireland and the Hill of Slane where St. Patrick let a Paschal fire in 433