Friday, December 22, 2006
Friday, December 22, 2006
A stream of golden sunlight passes through the window box and along the passageway leading into the burial chamber of Newgrange during yesterdays winter Solstice on the shortest day of the year.Photograph: The Irish Independent
No light ever seems as bright or as sudden as that on a Solstice morning. This is the sun that rises after the longest night, writes Eileen Battersby.
Long before daybreak, the signs were good. The heavens were casting off the Dickensian fog that had shrouded the Boyne Valley, and many other areas, during a 48-hour spell of damp, murky weather that made one suspect that time might be better spent re-reading Bleak House than waiting for the sun.
As the Newgrange watchers and Save Tara protesters gathered at the Stone Age monument, one of the finest passage tombs in Western Europe, knowing smiles set the tone.
After two dull mornings in which the Boyne itself had been invisible, the optimists had been rewarded.
A formidable trio consisting of nature, the ancients and global warming had decided on an impressive Christmas present - a golden sunrise.
Night suddenly became day and the monument and its resident battalion of sentry-like standing stones emerged from the purple darkness.
The air was cold but dry, perfect. Early arrivals noted the appearance of a handsome black Labrador. Too busy to notice the lone rabbit that froze statue-like before darting into a nearby hedge, Nick seemed businesslike, deliberate, impressively self-possessed. Two years of age, he is an experienced sniffer dog - his brief to check out the monument. Down the passageway he went, indifferent to the archaeology but intent on his task.
On leaving the monument, he walked down the hill, his Garda handler at his side and settled down with a sigh. Sharing the back of the van was his good-looking sidekick, Hesky, a German Shepherd, eager if far less a specialist.
“He does patrol work,” said his handler. Nick sighed again. Trained by the British Metropolitan police, he is an ambitious character who needs a challenge.
The chosen few, those who had won Solstice tickets as well as the usual Government Ministers filed by on their way into the mound. The rest of us waited, aware the show had already begun. Beneath a brightening sky, the warm pink turned to yellow as a blister of orange on the horizon began to take shape. The tree-lined ridge across the valley seemed to shimmer. By 8.45am, the sun was poised to break free. No light ever seems as bright or as sudden as that on a Solstice morning. This is the sun that rises after the longest night.
A woman wearing a pair of balloons, began to sway and wave her arms at the sun. “Is she trying to levitate?” asked an onlooker. “I hope not,” answered his companion, “but that one over there might set herself alight.” Oblivious to those of us watching the sun, stood a forlorn acrobat with a hoola hoop.
A number of cups attached to it were blazing. Meanwhile by 8.51am, on cue, the sun was displaying an emphatic sense of purpose, and had broken free of the horizon. Within five minutes, it was well clear of the ridge and was casting a bright light over the valley. The river, which had been a swollen torrent, for day had become a silver ribbon.
Faces turned away from the sky to the quartz-faced monument. A great beam of yellow was pouring through the roof box. Cameras were held aloft as were mobile phones - all recording the moment. The light began to withdraw, its mission completed. Suddenly the party which had been inside the chamber, made its way out. As the first figures descended the steps, the sun moved behind the clouds. Nature and ancient man had said enough, winter had symbolically begun its slow farewell.