Sunrise at Newgrange

Winter Solstice 2007

Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun. Above the entrance to the passage of the Newgrange mound there is a opening called a roof-box. On mornings around the winter solstice a beam of light penetrates the roof-box and travels up the 19 metre passage and into the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens so that the whole chamber is dramatically illuminated.

The Winter Solstice webcast from Newgrange was broadcast on the mornings of Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd December 2007. The conditions were excellent on the morning of the 21st, the rising sun illuminated the passage and chamber between 8:58am and 9:15am GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). On the morning of the 22nd the rising sun was blocked by a low bank of cloud, the sun cleared the cloud by 9:30am, too late to illuminate the chamber.

Newgrange Sostice Winter Solstice at Newgrange

Dark retreats before
the calculated caress
of sun's brightness.

Winter's hand pulls back
from a small ancient chamber;
light intensifies.

For a few minutes,
brilliance scatters kisses
before light recedes.

The night must return,
and we can draw light into
dark times if we try.

Clear conditions mean another perfect dawn watch at Newgrange

An article by Noelle Jennings, printed in the Meath Chronicle in December 2007.

A clear frosty morning ensured perfect conditions at Newgrange last Friday morning as the sun illuminated the chamber of the world-famous megalithic tomb on the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the phenomenon. It was on the 21st December 1967 that Professor Michael O'Kelly discovered the spectacular phenomenon for the modern world when he witnessed the sunlight creep through the roof box and light up the burial chamber of the 5,000-year-old tomb.

Professor O'Kelly's three daughters, Helen, Ann and Eve, were invited along to witness the illumination for themselves on the 40th anniversary of the moment their father stood in the chamber and witnessed the spectacle. It was an emotional and moving experience for them as they recalled their late father going to Newgrange 40 years before and the impact of his discovery on archaeology.

This year, the ancient site was introduced to the latest in technology so that the winter solstice spectacle was broadcast live on the internet to hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. However, such was the demand to view the solstice, too many hits meant not everybody was able to access the webcast and many were left disappointed.

Manager of the Brú na Bóinne centre, Clare Tuffy, said there were so many hits on the Heritage Ireland website that some people couldn't see it but explained that the highlights would be available on the Heritage Ireland website later that day.

She said the conditions on the shortest day of the year "couldn't have been better" and were "perfect". Ms Tuffy said it was a glorious morning and that everything had gone according to plan, other than the glitch with the webcast. However people from as far away as New Zealand had phoned the centre to tell them they had seen the webcast "loud and clear".

There were 20 people inside the chamber on Friday morning, including Ministers Noel Ahern and John Gormley, Professor O'Kelly's daughters and winners in the annual lottery to pick the lucky few who get inside the chamber to witness the phenomenon.

Newgrange Winter SolsticeOutside the megalithic monument, around more than 200 `dawn watchers` had been gathering from the very early hours to wait for the sun to come up over the hill on the far side of the Boyne Valley and, this year, they got to see the spectacle as it was broadcast on the large screen erected outside.

From 8.58am to 9.15am, the winter sun shone through the roof box beginning with a small shaft of light that culminated in the full illumination of the chamber. These were many regular `watchers` who gather at Newgrange every year to experience the dawn on the winter solstice, a sacred time for our megalithic ancestors.

Others in the burial chamber on Thursday morning included members of the public whose names were drawn in a raffle for places in the tomb during the solstice period. This year, the lottery members were Irish but over the course of the six days when the sun illuminates the tomb, people from Canada, Texas, Missouri and other places around the world travelled to Meath especially for the experience.

The solstice phenomenon doesn't just occur on the shortest day of the year but for a number of days either side of the date and `dawn watching` takes place for a total of six days when members of the public who won their places in the draw conducted earlier in the year are permitted to enter the passage tomb.

Newgrange Winter Solstice Archive

Newgrange Roof-box : Winter Solstice Sunbeam

Seeing The Light as Solstice Hits the Net

It was new age technology combined with 5,000-year-old Stone-Age engineering. Yesterday, for the first time, the winter sun lighting the passage tomb at Newgrange, Co Meath, was beamed live around the world on television and the internet.

Hundreds of people travelled long distances to face the sun as it rose over the Boyne Valley, as locals had done thousands of years earlier. The morning frost may have chilled fingers, but it provided perfect crisp weather for viewing the winter solstice. Witnessed by just a select few inside the snug burial chamber, the annual event was transmitted live by the Office of Public Works to hundreds of thousands of people via internet and television stations, including TV3.

It was 40 years ago that Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly first witnessed the event alongside her father, Professor Michael J O'Kelly, who rediscovered the winter solstice phenomenon when he unearthed the roof box. Yesterday saw his daughers -- Helen, Eve and Ann -- return to the chamber as part of the select group of dignitaries and lottery winners to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Professor O'Kelly's remarkable discovery.

"It was extraordinary, I remember seeing it in around 1969 -- all alone, just me and him. No cameras, no lights, nothing. The whole place was just illuminated. I'll never forget it," Ms Watanabe-O'Kelly said. "He was the first person in about 5,000 years to see it."

Outside, incense burned as some watchers saluted the rising sun, others simply watched while the sun set the roof box aglow. On a massive screen outside the passage tomb, from just before 9am the beam of amber light could be seen creeping along the floor. Inside in the small chamber was Environment Minister John Gormley, Minister of State Noel Ahern, and a lucky few whose names had been drawn out of a lottery of over 29,000 people for the golden tickets.

Mr Gormley, who was dashing off to see his son in a nativity play, said: "It was a real privilege and a once in a lifetime experience." Also present was a rather chilled Professor John Patrick O'Grady, from the University of Sydney, who surveyed the ancient astronomical observatory as part of his PhD Thesis work. Prof O'Grady chose the 40th anniversary to donate his papers on the passage tomb to the State. "The first time we saw it was a very emotional experience, it is a cultural confirmation of a culture so old," he said.

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy Principal from St Mary's Primary School in nearby Trim, had witnessed the event from within the chamber and vowed to bring back a small squadron of pupils to see it. "They are learning about it in school and I thought it would be a good experience," she said.

Other years, protestors had gathered outside in objection to the construction of the M3 motorway close to the historic Hill of Tara, yesterday there were no banners but still many supporters of the 'Save Tara' campaign were present.

After venturing along the treacherously icy roads from Co Wicklow, biker, Brian McGuinness, sat soaking up the winter sun outside the chamber. "The huge crowd was nice to see. Maybe there is a change going on after the few years of madness that was the Celtic Tiger," he said.

Solstice regular, Cliodhna Ryan (33) from Carlingford, Co Louth said the television cameras had impinged upon the "moment of silence and quiet" as the sun rises. After travelling from Chicago, James Robeson (64), quipped: "It might convert me from being a Roman Catholic to becoming a druid."

Louise Hogan - The Irish Independent - December 2007

Newgrange Coin Set

The Central Bank of Ireland have issued a Newgrange Coin Set. Newgrange is the theme for the 2008 uncirculated Coin Set, the sixth and final mint set in the 'Heritage of Ireland' series. The set was officially launched on 21st December 2007 following the Winter Solstice at Newgrange.

Setting Sun Alignments

The Winter Solstice Setting Sun illuminates the chamber at the nearby Dowth mound and at the cairn on Slieve Gullion in Co. Armagh.

Boyne Valley Private Day Tour

Boyne Valley Tours
Immerse yourself in the rich heritage and culture of the Boyne Valley with our full-day private tours. Visit Newgrange World Heritage site, explore the Hill of Slane, where Saint Patrick famously lit the Paschal fire. Discover the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of power for the High Kings of Ireland. Book Now