Newgrange is world famous for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the rising sun on the mornings around the the Winter Solstice. All are welcome to gather outside the entrance to the Newgrange mound on each of the mornings from December 19th to December 23rd, sunrise is just before 9am.
Newgrange Winter Solstice 2023
Newgrange Solstice 19th December 2023
According to the weather forecast the best chance to a good sunrise was on December 19th so I arrived at Newgrange at 8:30am hoping for a clear sky at 9am.
Arriving at Newgrange for the solstice
Some people had already arrived and were standing at the Newgrange entrance.
A bank of cloud blocked the sunrise at the critical time around 9am
The Solstice Lottery people exiting the Newgrange chamber
Following the departure of Solstice Lottery participants, those waiting could proceed to enter the Newgrange chamber
The white quartz facade of Newgrange illuminated by the radiant solstice sunlight.
Winter Solstice Sunbeam in the Newgrange Passage
Newgrange Solstice 21st December 2023
On the morning of December 21st, Newgrange witnessed its largest gathering of people for the sunrise. The event, broadcasted live online and on Ireland’s National TV News Channel, became a momentous occasion. Despite the initially unfavorable weather forecast, the sun pleasantly surprised everyone by breaking through, casting a partial illumination on Newgrange.
Newgrange Winter Solstice 21st December 2023 – View from the Roof-box where the sun enters the passage
‘We’ll never forget it’ – awestruck crowds celebrate the winter solstice at Newgrange
Hundreds gather at heritage site to mark the shortest day of the year – an article by Conor Feehan, published in the Irish Independent on 22nd December 2023
The sun made a brief and watery appearance at Newgrange yesterday, where hundreds of people gathered to mark the winter solstice. Conditions were blustery as the wind whipped around the 5,000-year-old heritage site on a bend of the Boyne in Co Meath, but as sunrise approached, a remarkable window of light formed in the sky as a rare phenomenon of Nacreous clouds tinged in rainbow colours delighted the crowd.
Nacreous Clouds : Newgrange Solstice 21st December 2023
The thump of drums echoed around the field between Newgrange and the rising sun, and people formed a large circle, holding the hand of the person next to them, to mark the shortest day of the year. The rising sun travels through a light box above the entrance to Newgrange just before 9am on the day of the solstice, and sends a beam of light down the stone-lined passageway to illuminate the inner chamber at its centre.
And there was just enough light for the 12 lucky visitors chosen by lottery to view the phenomenon. Alan O’Neill and his brother Gary, from Santry in Dublin, said it was an incredible experience. “I’ve been hoping to come here for many years. It’s a very special day. We’ll never forget that,” Mr O’Neill said. “A sliver of light came through, but that’s all we wanted. We sang songs and told stories, it was a very spiritual experience.
Newgrange Winter Solstice Celebrations – Photo by Ken Williams
I came here as a child and felt the energy of the place and it got into my soul and my bones, and I teach kids as well, so every time I teach the kids about Newgrange they know it’s a very special place. “I told my wife it was the best day of my life, she wasn’t too happy, after our wedding day. I’m not expecting much of a Christmas present.” Gary O’Neill added: “It’s lovely to see all the people here as well and experience the morning with them. People are coming here every year as part of their tradition.”
Juan Fajardo, from Chile, said he only became aware of Newgrange in the last few months after attending the Mullingar music festival. “For me it was very special to be here in another part of the world with another kind of energy in this place that is full of energy, and coming back to the womb of the mother,” he said. All of the lottery winners spoke glowingly of Juan bringing great atmosphere to Newgrange with a traditional Chilean song that he sang in the chamber. “It is a song that you sing during the new year in Chile as well,” he said.
The Irish contingent responded with a rendition of Óró sé do bheatha abhaile, and there was some ogham chanting. Caitriona Mullins said the experience of being inside the passageway of Newgrange was magical. “I can’t explain it. I feel like I’m having a dream, just knowing we were in a space where our ancestors had been,” she said.
Newgrange Winter Solstice 21st December 2023 – sunbeam in the passage
Lorna Evers-Monaghan, from Slane, was not one of the lucky ones to get inside the chamber, but she enjoyed the experience of just being there with her friends Sophie Hayley, from Kells, and Gemma McGowan, from Dowth. “We come every year. This is the day for the buzz and the crowds and you never know what you’re going to get. Seeing all the people, young and old, is wonderful – 5,000 years later we are still here and still coming,” she said.
Ms Evers-Monaghan was lucky enough to have been in the chamber of Newgrange in 2011 when the sun did light up the passageway. “It was most incredible. I’ll never forget it,” she said. Ms McGowan added: “I’m here to celebrate the return of the light at the darkest time of the year. At a time when we feel ourselves totally embraced by that darkness we can feel very inward, and like we want to retreat and hibernate. And today is that moment of celebration that brings us back out of that cave and back into the light again, and hopefully we’re recognising something that our ancestors recognised 5,000 years ago when they built this monument. “We were here on Tuesday, when we did get to see the sun shine into the chamber and the light in the passageway. It was absolutely extraordinary and a privilege to be here.”
Twins Keith and Dean Stapleton, from Finglas in Dublin, were at Newgrange with a drum and a copper trumpet. “We come every year and bring a bit of music and hopefully a bit of magic,” said Dean. From this point on, the sun will rise earlier and set later each day. In January there will be an extra one-and-a-half to two minutes of daylight each day.
Newgrange Solstice Video – National Monuments Service
Newgrange is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the rising sun at the Winter Solstice. Above the entrance to the passage of the mound there is an opening called a roof-box. On mornings around the winter solstice a beam of light penetrates the roof-box and travels up the 19 meter passage and into the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens so that the whole chamber is dramatically illuminated.
The story of the winter solstice at Newgrange is a tale woven into the fabric of ancient Irish history, a narrative of celestial alignment and human ingenuity that transcends the ages. Nestled in the Boyne Valley, Newgrange is a testament to the visionary brilliance of a civilization that existed over 5,000 years ago.
In the heart of winter, as the Northern Hemisphere grapples with the longest night and the shortest day of the year, a captivating celestial event unfolds at Newgrange. The story begins with the monument itself, a large circular concealing a passage that leads to a central chamber. But it is not just the architecture that makes Newgrange extraordinary; it is the careful calibration to the cosmos that sets it apart.
The ancient builders, with an understanding of the sun’s annual journey, constructed Newgrange to align with the winter solstice sunrise. Around December 21st, as the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky, a narrow beam of light penetrates the precisely oriented passage. This remarkable alignment was no accident; it was a deliberate act of architectural prowess, a symphony of stones and sunlight choreographed to celebrate the turning point of winter.
Picture the scene on that sacred morning. The people of ancient Ireland, whose lives were intricately intertwined with the cycles of nature, would have gathered in anticipation. As dawn broke, a hushed reverence fell upon the landscape. Slowly, the first rays of sunlight breached the horizon, seeking out the meticulously designed passage of Newgrange.
Tour Guide Michael Fox in Newgrange for the Winter Solstice Sunrise in 2010
The beam of light, like a cosmic messenger, advanced along the passage, penetrating the darkness of the tomb. As it reached the heart of Newgrange, the central chamber, aglow with a transient brilliance, became a sacred space bathed in the warmth of the returning sun.
The significance of this celestial alignment transcends mere astronomy; it delves into the spiritual and cultural tapestry of the ancients. The winter solstice, marked by the rebirth of sunlight, symbolized hope, continuity, and the eternal dance of life. Newgrange, with its annual solar spectacle, became a beacon of connection between the earthly realm and the cosmic forces that governed it.
As time marched forward, the story of the winter solstice at Newgrange endured. The monument continued to draw pilgrims and curious minds. In the modern era, the magic of the solstice at Newgrange is not just a relic of the past but a living tradition. Visitors from far and wide converge on the ancient site, standing witness to a phenomenon that transcends millennia and fosters a shared sense of wonder.
The story of the winter solstice at Newgrange is a tale of human intuition, architectural brilliance, and a deep-rooted connection to the cosmos. It echoes through time, inviting each generation to marvel at the enduring legacy of those who, with primitive tools and profound wisdom, aligned stones with the dance of the sun to celebrate the eternal cycle of life.