Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Solstice in Ireland

If you are ever lucky enough to travel to Ireland, make sure you visit Newgrange in County Meath in the Boyne River Valley on the east side of the Republic of Ireland.

Newgrange in the Summer

Sunrise at Newgrange

Facing east: the Winter Solstice sunrise shining through the roof box down the passage

Sunlight in the passage at Newgrange
Facing west: with the entrance behind the camera.
The stones lining the chamber are called orthostats.

This amazing prehistoric monument predates the Pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in Britain. The early (primitive??) people who built this structure had knowledge of the skies and built the monument in such a way that on Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice, and for a few days before and after, the rising sun shines downward through a roof-box located just above the entryway into a 19-metre long passage, eventually reaching all the way to the back and lighting up the chamber there.

During most of the year, this illumination is simulated using electric lights. But from approximately Dec. 18 to Dec. 23, people are permitted to witness the event in real time. The sun rises at this time of year just before 9:00 a.m. The lucky ones who see this for themselves are chosen by lottery.
Of course being able to see the sunrise is weather-dependent.
Newgrange Sostice

This is the east-facing entryway with the roof-box above. You can also see the incredible carvings in the stone which sits in front.

Here are some pictures from last year's Winter Solstice.

Similar but smaller mounds, Knowth and Dowth are located nearby and together with Newgrange are designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO .