Tomorrow, 22 December, the Irish will celebrate the Winter Solstice as they did thousands of years ago – at Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old megalithic monument into which the sun shines at sunrise on the solstice through the passage and into the main chamber.
While the monument near the Boyne River in County Meath is open all year and is one of Ireland’s most popular attractions, it draws special international attention around the solstice.
Newgrange predates the great pyramids at Giza in Egypt by some 500 years and Stonehenge by about 1,000 years. When it was built, sunrise on the shortest day of the year, which is usually 21 December but is on 22 December this year, entered the main chamber precisely at sunrise. Experts say it is not by chance that the sun shines there. Now it enters about four minutes after sunrise because of changes in the Earth’s orbiting of the sun since then.
Solstice sunrise light entering the Newgrange monument, a photo by Cyril Byrne of the Irish Times, as seen on NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day website.