Crowds gather for summer solstice on the Hill of Tara

Ancient ritual of marking the longest day of the year stretches back 6,000 years

People at the Hill of Tara gather for the summer solstice sunrise. Video: Alan Betson/Ronan McGreevy

 

Crowds gathered, as they have done for millennia, on the Hill of Tara in Co Meath to mark the summer solstice and the dawn of the longest day of the year.

At 4.52am the sun on the eastern horizon was obscured by cloud as observers looked from the twin mounds of the Mounds of the Hostages and the Lia Fáil eastwards towards the Hill of Skryne.

A steady bodhrán beat accompanied the dawn. The overcast conditions may have been something of a disappointment given the glorious weather of late, but the clouds eventually parted and the sun could be seen as a sliver of red light framed by the spire of the church at Skyrne.

The stillness was broken only by a cycling party and some joggers who were circling the perimeter of the hill during the sunrise.

This celebration of the summer solstice at the Hill of Tara has been taking ploace for 6,000 years. The seat of the ancient kings of Ireland commands views as far away as Offaly and Louth.

Each year this ancient tradition attracts locals, foreigners and the curious. Many stay overnight in a makeshift campsite beside the churchyard in Tara both to mark the exact moment of the solstice and the dawn on the longest day of the year.

‘Magical place’

Babs Leonard from Santry bought her dog Samson. It was her first sunrise. “It was so beautiful and peaceful,” she said.

Her friend Susan McGovern has made it three years in a row. “It’s very special. There is an energy up here,” she said.

“An ordinary person coming here sees nothing,” said local poet Kyrie Murray, “but this is a magical, sacred place.”

With his staff carved from a piece of pine found locally, he traces the energy lines which he says criss-cross the hill and prove that everything on the Hill of Tara is located where it is for a reason.

Maria Burke, from Offaly but lives in Australia, brought some friends from her adopted country. For her Tara is a must-visit place in Ireland. “I feel at this point that nature represents God in my life. It is important to mark the turnings of the seasons,” she said.