FOR the first time since 2007, a golden ray of sunshine lit up the chamber of the ancient passage tomb at Newgrange as hundreds of wellwishers celebrated the Winter Solstice this morning.
As if on cue, clouds that had brought rain bucketing down just half an hour before parted as the half light of dawn gave way to brilliant sunshine as the sun rose over the hill and a narrow strand of light beamed through the roof box at the 5,000-year-old monument in Co Meath shortly before 9am today.
“It was spectacular,” said Catherine McGagh, from Kinlough, Co Leitrim, whose 12-year-old daughter Hannah was one six schoolchildren from around the country who won a school art competiton giving them privileged access to the site on its most celebrated day of the year.
“Magical is the word,” she said of being inside the tiny chamber when the sun broke through at precisely 8:58am.
“It was such a privilege to be here, better than winning the lottery,” she said.
Nursing student Edel Reilly, (21), from Monaghan town, was one of two guests who were selected at random in the annual lottery run by curators at the Office of Public Works (OPW) which saw 29,503 hopefuls from around the world vie for a chance to be inside the ancient tomb at sunrise on the shortest day of the year.
“We were standing there in the darkness and then this gorgeous beam of golden light came in and flooded the chamber and then kind of just slid off to the slide. It was amazing,” she said.
“This feeling of awe just entered the chamber. You felt it was this really special moment and you could hear all the drums outside, it was just a lovely atmosphere,”she said.
Outside the chamber, about 300 people - including families with young children, couples, tourists, curiosity-seekers and a large gathering of New Age followers banging drums and hoisting colourful flags, gathered to greet the sun.
And they weren’t disappointed when it broke through the clouds and they embraced and cheered.
John Cantwell, (49), a healer and member of Sli an Chri or “Pathway of the Heart”, from Dublin, heralded the first ray of sun by blowing on handmade horn fashioned from a bull and ram’s horn as part of a large group of New Age and pagan celebrants who formed human circles linking hands at the base of the monument.
“Our ancestors who built this temple thousands of years ago were great astronomers and they knew something about the sun. I’ve been coming here for years and the majority of times, irrespective of the weather in Dublin or Belfast, the horizon is clear and we get an extraordinary experience of the sun like we do right now,” he said.
“It’s difficult to feel in any way negative about anything right now,” he told the Sunday Independent.
Dubliner Clare Butler, (33), said it was curiosity that brought her to the tomb which predates the Pyramids by more than a thousand years, as well as to celebrate her birthday two days ago.
“I’m just here out of curiosity to see what happens here each year and the historical element as much as anything,” she said
“Every other evening this week has been spent at Christmas parties so this was one way to make sure we went to bed early last night,” she said.