Solstice watchers fail to see the light at Newgrange
An article by Eileen Battersby printed in the Irish Times.
Newgrange - 21st December 2005
They came from Australia and South Africa; from Yorkshire and Cardiff; from parts
of Dublin as well as from just down the road.
An impressively good-natured group gathered in
, Co Meath, yesterday
morning to experience what has become for some moderns, the devout and the
curious, an annual tradition - the winter sun entering the roof box at the
famous Neolithic monument to slowly, dramatically make its way up the passage
to fill the ancient chamber.
It does happen. Science and belief, the importance the Stone Age farmers who
built Newgrange placed on the value of the sun's favour, and the sun itself
all contribute to the wonder that is the winter solstice. That said, no
amount of prayer or inspired engineering can make the sun shine. And
yesterday - it didn't.
Seasoned solstice watchers, professional archaeologists among them, first-time
visitors, many with information sheets printed off the internet, all stood
in the grey early morning to take part in the vigil. While sunrise within
the chamber is reserved for invited VIPs and ticket-holders, once they leave
everyone present takes their turn to enter the monument.
Shortly after 5am, rain fell in the Boyne Valley. The sickly moon flickered
in and out of the cloud cover, and finally spluttered out. The morning sky
was black, and the air was merely damp, not cold. It was not promising. The
standing stones which appear to guard the monument became more sharply defined
with every passing minute. Everyone had an opinion, and most agreed that a
minor class of miracle was needed to witness the central miracle.
The atmosphere remained jovial. After all, at least the year's longest night
was over. Cars lined both sides of the lane. Three men walked as one, the
tallest ashen-faced from an office party. The number of babies in attendance
was noticeably higher than usual. One very short woman carrying a large
baby, began describing to the infant what would happen - if the sun came
out. The baby slept on. The woman looked tired. "Was it better yesterday?" she asked.
Watches were checked. Eyes raked the sky. You could feel the communal concentration.
A television crew looked sympathetically at its journalist.
"Mam, where is the sun?" demanded a teenage girl wearing headgear approaching
Arctic explorer quality teamed with a tiny white top. The heavens remained resolutely grey.
The arrival of Minister for Justice Michael McDowell seemed to settle the matter. "Look
who it is," said a younger man to his girlfriend who appeared to be freezing, "it's bound
to start raining." Not even the combined good will of the onlookers and of the ancients
themselves could persuade the sun to brave the wrath of the Minister, who might just
decide on impulse to issue some kind of ban or writ.
"Blame him," hissed two girls. As Mr McDowell began his journey up the passage, a voice
broke the silence: "He'll be lucky to get out alive. The spirits will get him. It could
be the first human sacrifice in 5,000 years." Sufficient tittering greeted this to
encourage the same comedian to continue: "He's frightened the sun away." Even without
the spectacular natural drama, solstice morning at Newgrange is symbolic.
"It didn't happen," said a girl. "Of course it did," countered her friend, "it just
went on behind the clouds." She was right. Winter has begun its slow leave-taking,
the light will return and the ritual of rebirth will follow.
Eileen Battersby - The Irish Times
Winter Solstice Dates
Solstice literally means 'Sun Stands Still', for a few days around the
time of the winter solstice the sun appears to stand still in the sky in
that its elevation at noon does not seem to change. Click
for more information.
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