Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day trip: Solstice days at Newgrange

It's the week before Christmas, and all through the city.... there are seasonal events a-plenty. Earlier in the week I was in Christ Church for the very beautiful service of Nine Lessons and Carols. There are markets and funfairs and shop windows to look at and about a zillion different Santas to visit. For a different seasonal experience, though, you might want to think of taking a trip out of the city, to Meath, and visiting the ancient monument that is Newgrange. I visited yesterday to catch a different flavour of the seasonal mood.

The event of the Solstice morning, when the light hits the inner chamber, is well known,although the event itself may not be very well seen or not seen at all, if the weather is bad, as it often is in this country. Entry to the Solstice event is strictly regulated and participants are chosen by lottery every year. Visitors can fill out lottery forms at the visitors' centre. What I hadn't known before my visit yesterday is that the event is not restricted to one single day, but happens every morning for a period of about six days around the Solstice. The lottery winners are assigned a particular dawn over that period, and they may or may not get lucky.

It had been over fifteen years since my previous visit and much had changed. All access to the monument is now through the visitors' centre, although I understand this is relaxed on mornings around Solstice. The beautiful visitors' centre itself is very worth seeing. It is designed to fit in to the landscape and this makes it look like an extended Hobbit hole, with earth roofs and outside access on different levels.

The visitors' centre contains a Brambles cafe (reliable if pricey), a rather poor gift shop and an exhibition of the history of Newgrange and the people associated with it. Not being an expert, I can't judge how historically accurate the exhibition was and how much of it is speculative in order to provide a better experience to the visitor. Nonetheless, it was interesting and beautifully put together.

The ticket to see the monument/s (in addition to Newgrange you can also go see Knowth, for extra cost) include the entry to the exhibition. In order to see the monuments, you need to take a shuttle bus, across the Boyne from the visitors' centre. The trip to Newgrange takes about five minutes. At the monument, you are met by your guide, who talks to you about the site and then brings you inside. I was very pleased with our guide emphasising that despite all the theories out there, nobody knows for certain what exactly the purpose of the monument was.

The passage into the inner chamber is very narrow, to the point at which I had to turn sideways as my shoulders were too wide to pass through. Inside, the lights were turned off in order to simulate the entry of the beam of light at Solstice, but at this point there was a surprise. The guide told us that the beam of pale white light on the floor was natural, that around the days of Solstice, the ambient sunlight outside is enough to produce a ghostly impression of the Solstice event. The event itself would, of course, be much stronger and brighter, but nonetheless, he noted that what we saw in the afternoon was better than what the Solstice group had seen at that dawn.

Once back at the visitors' centre, I filled in a lottery form for the 2012 Solstice. Hey, you never know.

Information about access, cost and opening times on Heritage Ireland


  1. Wow you got to see natural light in the passage - you are one of the lucky few!

  2. Nice post.