Winter Solstice in Ireland ~ Newgrange

Winter Solstice in Ireland ~ Newgrange

The Shortest Day ~ The Darkest Midnight

In Newgrange, County Louth, there is an ancient tomb with stones covered with ancient Celtic artwork. Once a year, at the Winter Solstice, the tomb fills with light and the beautiful spirals are illuminated. Newgrange predates both Stonehenge and the ancient Pyramids of Egypt.

It is a clear signal that the ancient peoples of Ireland understood the movement of the sun at the Winter Solstice and celebrated this Shortest Day; the Darkest Midnight. Here are thirty-three facts about this fascinating monument. Many Celtic jewelry designs are inspired by the spirals at Newgrange. 

Lots of fun factoids here:

  • 1,000 years older than Stonehenge (see Stonehenge slideshow below)
  • Discovered in 1969 by laborers searching for building stones
  • Charles Campbell was the landowner at the time
  • On Campbell's instructions, stones were sought and the entrance discovered
  • The mound is in the shape of a kidney 
  • Constructed around 3200BC (Stone Age)
  • 600 years older than the Giza Pyramids in Egypt
  • Covers an area of approximately one acre
  • Surrounded by 97 kerb-stones
  • Megalithic art on many of the kerb-stones
  • Arwork includes spirals, lozenges, zigzags, and other symbols
  • These designs are similar to designs found in Brittany (France), at Gavrinis
  • Entrance stone has the most famous designs; triple spiral
  • Long passage leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof
  • Historians building time estimate (passage tomb): 300 workers 20 years +
  • 200,000 + visitors to Newgrange each year
  • Most visited archaeological monument in Ireland
  • One of the finest European passage-tombs
  • Located in the Boyne Valley in a 3 square mile area
  • Within this 3 mile area, there are 30 prehistoric monuments
  • The stone circle was probably built about 1000 years later (Beaker period).
  • Over the entrance passageway is the 'roof box' (allows the light in)
  • The roof box aligns perfectly with the sunrise on the winter solstice
  • At sunset on the winter solstice, the center of the tomb floods with light
  • The illumination lasts about 20 minutes
  • You can see the spirals for those 20 minutes....
  • The cruciform chamber inside the mound measures 6.5 x 6.2m (21ft 6in x 17ft)
  • The corbelled roof stretches 6m (20ft) above the floor
  • Considered to have have been the burial place of the Kings of Tara
  • Home of King Dagda, leader of the Tuatha De Danann

The Darkest Midnight

Áine Minogue

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The Kilmore carols are a haunting and beautiful collection of Christmas carols from the village of Kilmore in County Wexford (Ireland). In the depths of harsh winter, a reminder of sacred celebration invests these beautiful old melodies, many of which are sung to this day in the village of Kilmore and elsewhere. You can listen to the "The Darkest Midnight," arguably the best known and most loved of these cherished Carols. This was the carol sung on Christmas Day. There are thirteen Kilmore carols in all, one for Christmas night ("The Darkest Midnight" ), and one for each of the twelve days of Christmas. More recently, these carols are sung on New Years Day, Christmas Day, Little Christmas (January 6th) and the Sunday that falls between Christmas and New Years. The songs are in an old plaintive style, devoid of harmony, but full of ornamentation. Having everyone sing the ornamentatation together and unaccompanied, or even with organ, must have made for a mesmerizing sound those many years ago in that small parish church. It's hard to believe that such a small area had its own specical selection of songs for the 12 days!

The original thirteen carols are from a variety of sources. One, "Jerusalem, My Happy Home"(16th century) is from England. Some were composed by Bishop Luke Wadding during the 17th Century.Those which have proved to be the greatest source of pride are by a local returned missionary, William Deveraux, (16th century). His descendants continued to sing these carols up to recent times. "Good People All At Christmas Time" (The Enniscorty Carol) is considered to be a 'local' carol.

Originally, the term "carol' meant a song for dancing, particularly to mark the changing of seasons. Songs outside the plainchant tradition often had their melodic origins in folk melodies are were adapted to carols in celebration of Christmas. The Kilmore Carols are a true exception in that they were strictly written and exclusively performed within the context of the Mass. To a large degree, this still holds true. For more on Irish carols and carol singing in Ireland, click here.

The Darkest Midnight (From the Kilmore Carol Collection, Traditional Irish)

The darkest midnight in December no snow nor hail nor winter storm Shall hinder us for to remember the babe that on this night was born With shepherds we are come to see this lovely infant's glorious charms Born of a maid as the prophets said the God of love in Mary's arms.

Have you not heard the sacred story, how man was made those seats to fill Which the fallen angels lost in glory through their presumption, pride and will They thought us mean for to obtain such glorious seats and crowns in heaven So through a cheat they got Eve to eat the fruit to be avenged on man.

Ye blessed angels join our voices let your guilded wings beat fluttering o'er While every soul set free rejoices and every one now must adore We'll sing and pray that he always may Good people one and all defend God grant us grace in all our days a Merry Christmas and a Happy end.

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