This year the winter solstice in Ireland takes place at 8.58am GMT on Tuesday the 22nd of December. It will be the shortest day of the year and the longest night.
Solstice literally means “Sun Stands Still”. This is the suns lowest point of inclination in the northern hemisphere, where to ancient peoples, it would have appeared to stand still for days until it ascended by degrees back into their skies from the solstice onwards to spring and summer.
The winter solstice was an incredibly important ancient event throughout the northern hemisphere with celebrations in all cultures sharing a common thread, the celebration of the return of the sun from darkness. A time of rebirth and emergence from darkness into light.
Unlike Stonehenge in England which aligns with the winter solstice sunset, Newgrange in Brú na Bóinne in County Meath is aligned with the winter solstice sunrise. Built over 5000 years ago, new grange is a large kidney shaped neolithic passage tomb older than the pyramids in Egypt and indeed older than Stonehenge.
Each year on the mornings of the solstice large crowds gather at Newgrange to be present at the event. A lottery is held each year by the office of public works to determine who will be present inside the chamber to view the main event. This year there were more than 30,000 applications.
At sunrise on the mornings of the solstice the sun enters the chamber through a roof box over the main entrance and a beam of light illuminates the entire passage of an otherwise dark interior. The structural alignment of the tomb suggests that those who built it had a knowledge and observance of astronomy and revered and celebrated the sun at this time of year.
Along with gatherings this weekend at Newgrange and celebrations around the country the power of the winter solstice is still celebrated to this day in Ireland.
This evening in Smithfield, Dublin, the City of Dublin Winter Solstice celebration takes place. Kicking off from 5.30pm the event will include the lighting of a ceremonial fire and a parade in Smithfield Square.