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December 21, 2004

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice by Alan BetsonNEWGRANGE -- Today is the shortest day of the year and the time of the winter solstice. Alan Betson of the Irish Times shot this photo at Newgrange, showing the sun's alignment with the passage way leading into the burial chamber of the megalithic tomb at Newgrange. This is an awesome sight and unique to Ireland. Newgrange delivers its magic on the day, captured by spectators and by journalist Eileen Battersby below.

Battersby writes:

Curiosity and belief create tradition and custom becomes ritual. This is true of many things, such as the annual mid-winter pilgrimage to the great Stone Age passage grave monument of Newgrange in Brú na Bóinne, the famous Boyne Valley in Co. Meath. During the solstice, the five shortest days of the year, the rising sun will, given kindly weather conditions, strike the northern or back recess of the chamber. Fusing nature and science, with the honouring of the dead, the phenomenon devised 5,000 years ago continues to fascinate.

On a good day, such as yesterday, the Gods and the ancients smiled. With them, about one hundred present-day mortals were also smiling as the famous honeyed rosy golden beam cast forth by a determined sun made its way towards the monument. God, art and precision engineering all have a part in creating what is the marvel of Newgrange. Hopes of experiencing the ingenious role of the roof box in the drama, from inside the chamber or from outside the monument facing a high ridge flaking the south bank of the river, draws pilgrims and devotees from all over the world, as well as Ireland.

A trio of Kerry men had travelled through the night intent on being part of the celebrations. It was close, but they made it, as had a solemn older man wearing a troll-like headdress cum woollen hat complete with two thick white woollen plaits.

Part of the magic is to arrive in the darkness; this is the morning following the longest night of the year. To be at Newgrange at the solstice is to welcome the beginning of the gradual return of the daylight. More importantly, it marks the first stages of the slow death of winter.<

The mist rises from the river and the shadows that had appeared to be ghostly watchers are revealed as large standing stones also sharing in the vigil. Nature invariably defies the predictable. Early arrivals were all confident of a spectacular sunrise worthy of the sophisticated genius of the tomb-builders. "Conditions are perfect" became a form of greeting.

A small group quickly became a fair-sized gathering without a Santa in sight. The chosen few, selected by lottery to enter the chamber in the presence of the official guests, wore slightly apprehensive expressions. The wider public outside consisted of regulars known to attend every year, first-timers, zealots and the curious as well as those anxious to begin Christmas well, were prepared to wait.

Morning was well established, the shadows were gone. The sky could have been on loan from a Turner painting as the sun announced its presence against a mixture of brightening blue and contrasting purple. Cameras were focused. All eyes turned to the heavens. Pale pink turned to warm gold. Contented onlookers applauded. The sanded floor of the famous passage inside would begin to shimmer as the sun began its journey.

Almost by surprise, however rain began to fall. The sun and the rain danced. Would there be a loser? Not this time. The outcome was more magnificent duet than battle. Onlookers decided the real solstice was happening outside. It was.

With a final flourish of graceful theatre, nature decided to toss a rainbow straddling the monument, itself a serene juxtaposing of earth and stone. The colourful ribbon became a vast arc. More cameras flashed recording the image of a rainbow encircling Newgrange yesterday morning as winter began to die.

Eileen Battersby -- "Newgrange delivers its mid-winter magic"
Knowth -- Winter Solstice Magic
John Smyth --"Winter sunrise"
Dave Walsh -- "Winter Solstice"
Stunned -- "Winter Solstice"
Photo by Alan Betson

December 21, 2004 in Heritage | Permalink


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Tracked on Feb 15, 2005 12:37:01 PM


I would like to obtain a print of this photo from you. I am willing to pay for it and would consider it an honor to add it to my collection of solstice events, Can you help me please?
God bless

Posted by: Mark Pugatch | Aug 26, 2007 8:54:23 PM

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