Vinny finds himself bathed in a special light on the longest day of the year

What he was doing in a darkened tomb at dawn was a mystery the ancient druids would have struggled to solve

 The sun shines along the passage floor into the inner chamber at newgrange during the  Winter Solstice at Newgrange. The passage tomb in Co  Meath was built over 5000 years ago. Photograph: Alan Betson

The sun shines along the passage floor into the inner chamber at newgrange during the Winter Solstice at Newgrange. The passage tomb in Co Meath was built over 5000 years ago. Photograph: Alan Betson

Wed, Jun 25, 2014, 12:00

Just what Vinny Fitzpatrick was doing in a darkened tomb at dawn dressed in a rather snug judo outfit was a mystery the ancient druids would have struggled to solve.

But there he was, several metres under the fertile soil of Meath, waiting for the first fingers of Saturday morning to shed light into one of Ireland’s earliest burial places.

It was cool, quiet and just a little scary, if Vinny was being honest. Not that he would let on, for that would be a sign of weakness. Instead, he shivered and waited for nature to flick the switch.

This was all the fault of Bungalow Bob, Vinny’s dozy brother-in-law, so called because he had nothing on top. The evening before, Bungalow, who was married to Vinny’s sister, Mary, had tossed in a googly by proposing a nocturnal meander while at a barbecue at their home in Bettystown.

“You’re staying overnight so why not seize the moment. It’s a chance that comes around only once a year, a bit like your visits to see us,” said Bungalow with the air of courage inspired by a second shandy.

Stung, Vinny had accepted the challenge, even though it meant four hours kip – half his usual ration – as Bob was keen to be in place, and gone, before any nosy day-trippers arrived. The tomb of Dowth wasn’t as well-known as Newgrange, but it held a secret which was known to only a few, including Bob whose passion was the ancient burial sites, specifically the ones on his doorstep.

Swearing Vinny to silence, he revealed how each midsummer morning, at daybreak, the sun’s rays lit up its chamber for a fleeting moment, so fleeting that it had been rarely seen.

Four bells

“If this ever gets out, we’ll have the world and his mother queuing up every June 21st, trampling all over the place. We have it next door at Newgrange for the mid-winter solstice, and that’s enough,” he said.

At four bells on Saturday morning, Bob parked in Dowth Hall and beckoned Vinny to follow him up a grassy trail lit by his torch. Bob had insisted on wearing judo garb “for authenticity”. “Looking like this, we might deter any morning meddlers from getting too close.”

Even in the half-light, Vinny could make out the huge semi-circular burial mound of Dowth, which was bigger than Newgrange.

Bob worked his way around the cairn, which was dotted by stones, or kerbs as he called them. After a bit, he came to an opening and beckoned Vinny to follow him into the dark recess of the ancient catacomb.

Bent over, Vinny made his way down a narrow passageway. He felt slightly jiggy, like he did as a kid when his old man took him to see the mummies of St Michan’s in Church Street.

But he wouldn’t let on, not to Bob who had come to a halt with such a start that Vinny backed into him. “Call yourself a driver,” quipped Bob as he stood up and flashed the light around him. “This is the place, alright, the centre of the chamber, which is in line with the rising sun. By my reckoning, it’s 15 minutes to sunrise. It’s a clear morning, we just might be lucky.”

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