Celebrating Cultures, Promoting Integration
Newgrange winter solstice is upon us again. Newgrange is probably the best known megalithic monument in Ireland, with its most famous feature the illumination of the inner passage during the mornings of the winter solstice.
Newgrange winter solstice is a sight not to be missed. The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is just around the corner. For the last three years, it has happened on the 21st of December, but this year it is going to fall on the 22nd of December.
The solstice is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere when the Sun’s position and its angle of inclination related to the Earth make the point of the South Pole tilt closest to the Sun. The Sun’s rays are directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn. The opposite of the Solstice is the Equinox. The equinox happens in March, around March 21st, and in September, around September 23rd. These are the days when the Sun is exactly above the Equator, which makes day and night of equal length. If the Solstice is the start of the winter, the Equinox is the start of the spring.
Ireland and the Solstice
In the county of Meath, at Newgrange in Ireland’s Ancient East, there is a lot of competition to be among the few lucky believers looking to celebrate the start of the new year. Newgrange is one of the oldest megaliths from the Neolithic period, dating from circa 3,200 BC, making it older than the Pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in England. To the Neolithic culture of the Boyne Valley, Brú na Bóinne in Gaelic, the winter solstice marked the start of the new year.
Newgrange is a large circular mound with an inner stone passageway and chambers. The fact of human bones was found in these chambers, made archaeologists classify it as a possible tomb. However, this is not the reason for the fascination which motivates people from everywhere on the island, and as well from all over the world, to apply for an opportunity to spend one day in the unique and remarkable monument.
The entrance to the passage and chamber is aligned with the rising sun on the mornings around the winter solstice. On these mornings light shines through a “roofbox”, a specially constructed opening above the doorway, and the inner passageway and chambers are flooded with sunlight. However, due to the restrictions of the construction, only a limited number of people are able to witness this spectacle each year.
At Newgrange, the round tomb has many stones covered with fine examples of megalithic art. The main stone located at the entrance to the passage is well known for its particular Celtic symbols. Researchers classified the carvings into ten categories, five of which are curvilinear (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentine forms, and dot-in-circles) and the other five of which are rectilinear (chevrons, lozenges, radials, parallel lines, and offsets). They are also believed to have some sort of symbolic purpose.
There is a lot of mysticism and religiosity around Newgrange and the surrounding Brú na Bóinne area. Irish mythology and history is strongly connected to the site, which consists of a triangle hills where the old Irish kings used to live. The places Dowth, Knowth and Newrange are the three sacred spots for the Irish Gaelic culture. Newgrange is the most famous because of its popularity with tourists, after being rebuilt in the late 1960’s. According to Celtic culture, a nearby place called the Hill of Tara was Ireland’s political and spiritual capital. The “King of Tara” represented a very old ideal of sacred kingship in Ireland. Tara continued to be the nominal seat of kingship until it was abandoned in 1022. In Gaelic, Tara is Teamhair, and the name may refer to the burial mound of Tea, ancestor queen and goddess of the Celts. The Hill is the original home of the festival of Samhaim, which today is celebrated as Halloween.
Applying for Newgrange winter solstice
The selection for a place to watch the magnificent Newgrange winter solstice is made by lottery. This year, children from three local schools have chosen the applicants, who were notified in late October. The place is non-transferable. Between 18th and 23rd of December, lucky sixty people will be having the unique opportunity of visiting the site. You can apply at the website, within 6 months advance.
If you have a wild spirit and are willing to get in touch with historical Irish places and culture, bring a coat, have a comfortable pair of shoes and jump down Brú na Bóinne. The well-known hospitality of these people will probably offer you that special adventure that is really worth a try!