Solstice pilgrims hail greatest show in living memory

Last-minute appearance by sun at Newgrange proves masterful

Newgrange Alan Betson

Mon, Dec 23, 2013, 06:02

“Oh ye of little faith” has seldom seemed more apt than it did at the famous Newgrange, Brú na Bóinne, complex in Co Meath at the weekend.

In the annals of solstice-watching, this was the director’s cut, with the ever-changing weather more than matching the contrasting human emotions. These ranged from philosophical to anxious to – if only for a nerve-wracking opening act – momentarily disappointed.

All eyes were fixed on the horizon on Saturday morning and, after a grim beginning of wind and rain, even veteran solstice pilgrims were in agreement that it was one of the finest – no, the most spectacular – sunrise in living memory.

Most spectacular because it was so hard won. Schoolchildren there were transfixed. A generation raised on digitally enhanced images agreed they had never seen anything so “amazing”, “cool”, “mental”, “class” or indeed “deadly”.

Youthful faces became even younger. Santa Claus had been upstaged. The ancient tomb builders of the late Stone Age and nature had again collaborated in creating a miracle best described, to borrow Seamus Heaney’s phrase, as being “out of the marvellous.”

And marvellous it was. The sheer defiance displayed by the sun on Saturday morning and again yesterday, raised the word “heroic” to new levels of meaning. This was the sun at its most masterful. Despite the harsh weather on Friday night and Saturday morning, the loyal and the sceptical, the experienced and the newcomer, all trudged to Newgrange in the dark and into a sly, icy wind sufficiently vicious to fell an army.

Saturday morning had arrived, black night yielding to black pre-dawn. It was raining and the windy was howling, freezing, yet without the hard, cold frost conditions that usually guarantee a solstice light show.

At 8am on Saturday morning the sky was black. The more stout-hearted were already comforting the weaker-spirited, particularly as Friday’s sunrise in a clear sky had been beautiful. The main thing, reasoned a father whose teenage daughter was complaining about being dragged out of the house on a Saturday morning to see nothing, was that “this is the beginning of the end of winter”.

The girl disappeared further inside her hat, which was made in the shape of a smiling bear’s face complete with ear flaps. She seemed unconvinced on hearing that she was involved in a great ritual. The father looked helpless. “Happy solstice, happy solstice,” neighbours said to each other. Someone was beating a bodhrán.

A small figure held a banner bearing the image of the tri-spiral carved on the side wall inside the main ceremonial chamber at the back of the monument.