Saturday 20 January 2018

Clouds leave solstice hopefuls in the dark again

Mark Hilliard

THE ray of sunshine never came.

For the fourth year running, the 25 or so lucky people who crammed into Newgrange for the winter solstice were left in the dark as to the wonders this 5,000-year-old tomb has to offer.

At exactly 8.58am, when the sun rose on the shortest day of the year, it did so behind a bank of stubborn grey clouds.

"The strength and the colour of the sun is unbelievable; it reminds me of the desert, it was so strong and powerful and you could see it creeping up the passageway," said primary school teacher Elizabeth Murray who has been coming to the Co Meath site for 18 years.

But her poetic description was not of yesterday's proceedings, rather an ideal version of the solstice she witnessed from inside the chamber on a frosty morning in 1993.


Every year Mrs Murray has brought her class from St Mary's Convent Primary School in Trim to witness the event and she knows better than anyone both its value and its unpredictability.

There are other opportunities to witness the phenomenon -- between December 18 and 23 about 120 members of the public who have won golden tickets can enter the passage -- but the 21st remains the focal point at Newgrange.

The Government was well represented yesterday, with both Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn in attendance.

"It was very dark," said Mr Varadkar. "So we didn't see anything but it was still great to be in there."

The passageway, which is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Republic, was surrounded by a few hundred people who were unable to enter but eager to experience the festivities.

Amongst them were the Bolger family -- Dermot and children Brian (10) and Anna (14), and his sister Marguerite and her children James Murphy (10), Cahill (7) and Elaine (5).

"It's a sense of being just a speck in the universe," said Marguerite. "It's a sense of being missing from school," retorted her son James.

This year over 35,000 people put their name into the draw to be present in the passageway.

Shortly after sunrise, those who had braved the cold began to file away from the site. And while it was another winter solstice without the sunshine, it somehow maintained its mystery. Maybe next year.

Irish Independent

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