Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A message of hope from the Newgrange chamber on Winter Solstice

Although I have been to Newgrange hundreds of times and despite having written a book about it, I have never had the pleasure of being inside the chamber of Newgrange for Winter Solstice sunrise - until today.
This morning (Sunday December 19th 2010), shortly before 9am, I was one of a lucky group gathered at the 5,200-year-old stone monument awaiting the sun's light. And although somewhat dispersed by cloud cover, we did get to see sunlight in the chamber, and then when the clouds cleared we got lovely intense sunlight in the passage just outside the chamber.

It was a very enjoyable experience and an uplifting and calming one too. The presence of snow in the valley only served to enhance the experience for those of us who were there. Our guide, Leontia, was excellent, informative and friendly. We enjoyed her commentary on the phenomenon and also those moments of calm and quiet which she suggested would help us enjoy the moment all the more.

One of the most poignant aspects of the event for me was the idea that light can shine into the darkest places and although Ireland is going through dark times Newgrange is a symbol of hope for the future. 

It has survived for over 5,000 years, reinforcing the idea that the Irish people have been around for a long, long time, and we will be around for a long time into the future as well. Best wishes of the Solstice and Christmas season to all of you and may the light of Newgrange inspire you to hope for a better year in 2011. A special mention for film-maker Grant Wakefield - thanks. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sophistication of neolithic astronomy finally being recognised

I am heartened to read in the Irish Daily Mail newspaper (July 2nd 2010, p.40) that some recognition of the sophistication of neolithic astronomy in Ireland is finally taking place.

A correspondent asks the paper 'were there any links between the ancient sites of Stonehenge and our own Hill of Tara?'

Charles Legge writes that, 'Little is know of the pre-Celtic neolithic people who occupied Britain and Ireland around 5,000 years ago, except that they shared an incredibly sophisticated astronomy - far more accurate than, for example, the Ptolemaic system used by the Roman empire and, later, the Christian Church.
Both Stonehenge and the various monuments at Tara, Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange are, essentially, astronomical clocks that can be used to predict celestial events such as lunar and solar eclipses with utter precision.'

That is a very important statement, because no indication of astronomical expertise by the mound-builders is found in any of the academic texts. I can only assume that Mr. Legge has read and is familiar with 'Island of the Setting Sun - In Search of Ireland's Ancient Astronomers' and perhaps other work, maybe Martin Brennan's books. Because the truth is, outside of a few books like ours, it's very difficult to find any volume which gives serious credence to the idea that a sophisticated cosmology underlined the design of these ancient structures.

Long may this recognition continue.