Every year around the winter solstice, Newgrange passage tomb in County Meath fills with a fantastic flood of light – and this year was no different.
The winter solstice – also known as the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere – falls on 21 December annually.
On this day, a stunning beam of light floods the Newgrange passage tomb in County Meath for up to 17 minutes on a clear day.
Thanks to deft-angling and a roof box in the 5000-year-old Neolithic monument light is able to enter the 62-foot long passage illuminating the floor and walls of the tomb and lighting up the ancient wall carvings including the pre-Celtic triple spiral.
Winter solstice 2020 – different than normal
Under normal circumstances, the Office of Public Works would allow up to 30 people to enter the passage tomb to witness this phenomenal event. Over 30,000 people applied for a place at the event in a lottery last year.
However, due to Coronavirus restrictions, the OPW moved this year’s event online with a live stream going out over a three-day period from Sunday 20 to Tuesday 22 allowing thousands of people all over the world to witness this spectacular phenomenon.
Due to cloudy conditions on Monday 21, very little light could be seen entering the tomb.
Clare Tuffy of the OPW, who was presenting the live stream explained that unfortunately, this is sometimes the case, but celebrating the darkness is just as important as celebrating the light when it comes to the winter solstice.
“Without the darkness, we cannot celebrate the light,” she said, and highlighting the meaning of the solstice, added,
“Even though we may not see the sunrise this morning, we know the longest night is over.”
A second chance – a spectacular event
Despite the disappointment of Monday’s sunrise, the OPW also live-streamed the event on Tuesday, and what took place was a sight to behold.
Clearer conditions meant a beautiful beam of light flooded into the ancient tomb just after the sunrise at 8:45 am on Tuesday morning.
Local expert Professor M. J. O’Kelly was the first person to witness the winter solstice at Newgrange in on 21 December 1967 as he was completing excavations at the ancient site. Since them, the winter solstice at Newgrange has become a global phenomenon.
Speaking to the BBC, O’Kelly’s daughter, who witnessed the phenomenon the following year, said, “Suddenly this shaft of light came into the chamber and hit the back wall.
“I remember being quietly moved – it was like someone was speaking to you from thousands of years before. I still see it like a picture before my inner eye – it was a golden light.”
The symbolism of the winter solstice sends a message that the longest night of the year is over and lighter, brighter days are to come – a fitting message on which to end 2020.
Watch the incredible event here: