Monday, December 21, 2015

Let There be Light at Winter's Solstice

Ireland's Newgrange Monument Welcomes Winter Solstice

Okay, I admit it. One of the things that gets on my wick here is winter and the lack of light. Sundown right now is at 4:30 PM. Sun-up is 8:43 AM. I get rather tired of bumping into things when I forget to turn on the lights in the house, and I bump into almost everything: the Christmas tree, the cat, the full mug of coffee that I just poured which invariably ends up all over my naked feet.

The good news of course is that today - right now - it's Winter's Solstice! The shortest day of the year which means of course that from  here on out the days can only get longer. Simple astronomical physics, right? For today, here in the land of darkness, we'll all go slightly dopey as we celebrate the fact that we've made it through another long winter's night, and can look forward to the coming spring: the longer days, the lengthy twilights at mid-summer ... the constant rain.

Of course, the Irish have been celebrating the end of darkness and the coming dawn of spring for millennia. All the way back to the construction of Newgrange, and longer than that, of course. Five thousand years ago, I gather that the locals up in County Meath got together and decided on a cold, dark, lonely winter's night, something had to be done about it all. I can hear them now:

Megalithic Irish Husband: "The bloody darkness, fer feck sake! I can't take it anymore. When's it going to start getting brighter?"
Megalithic Irish Wife: "You're asking me? How would I know. Stop complaining and do something about it."

So he did. He and a whole troop of other fella's of course. They got together and hauled tonnes and tonnes of rock from way down in County Wicklow, north up the Irish Sea, down the Boyne, to the bend in the river known as Newgrange. God alone knows how they did it, but did it they did. Then they probably took a breather and scratched their heads in unison.

Megalithic Irish Husband: "We're gonna build a clock. Something to tell us when the short days stop getting shorter and the long days are gonna get longer."
So they did that too. Somehow they organized that great pile of rock so carefully - and without the aid of Google - into a Holy Show complete with Roof Box. When they were finally finished with the build, they must have waited for the next Winter Solstice with baited breath. Can you imagine if they'd screwed up the engineering? What if the Sun didn't come through that tiny hole as planned? They were hardly going to rearrange thousands of tonnes of rock to get things right, now were they?

So on that first Winter's Solstice, when the sun finally peaked above the horizon and flooded through that Roof Box to light the interior within, I'm sure there was quite a bit of back-patting and hand-shaking and self-congratulation. And I can hear the wife saying: "Well good on ya. Now if you're so clever what about a washing machine rather than these stupid rocks I have to use to get the stains out of yer leathers?"

Congratulations, Megalithic Engineers of Ireland. Your clock still works. On this shortest day of the year, it's great to know that at least something still works in Ireland.

(I see that author and comedian Colm Tobin has entitled his most recent tome Surviving Ireland. Colm, could ya not have thought of an original title fer yerself, fer feck sake? :) )

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