Winter Solstice in the House of the Dagda

The front door to the house of the Dagda (Newgrange), 2010. Photo by Sue.

It’s the last evening before the solstice, and I’m thinking of the people who are coming from all over Ireland right now to gather at the house of the Dagda, or Brú na Bóinne, also known as Newgrange.  We were in the Boyne River valley during our last week in Ireland this past summer, and visited Newgrange once again.  For those who don’t know the site, it’s one of two passage tombs in Ireland that have that rare and amazing feature:  a roof box.  This is the upper shaft above the doorway that serves as a door for the ray of sunlight that enters the chamber on Winter Solstice morning.  The sun shines down the long passageway and illuminates the inner chambers of the tomb for a short period of time on that morning, as well as a few mornings on either side of the Solstice.  Here is a helpful site for further information.

This year, the event promises to be more spectacular than usual, as there is a total lunar eclipse occurring the night/morning of the Winter Solstice, depending on your time zone. Whether I’ll be waiting up to see it, here in the pacific northwest, is up to the condition of the skies.  I think it will be too cloudy.

Do you know the story of the Dagda and his harp?  It is from the account of the Second Battle of Moytura, and the manuscript (here in a translation by Whitley Stokes) is rich in details about the coming of Lugh, the Dagda’s exploits, and the war between the Fomoire and the Tuatha de Danaan.

Here is the excerpt of interest:

“Now Lug and the Dagda and Ogma pursued the Fomorians, for they had carried off the Dagda’s harper, whose name was Uaitne. Then they reached the banqueting-house in which were Bres son of Elotha and Elotha son of Delbaeth. There hung the harp on the wall. That is the harp in which Dagda had bound the melodies so that they sounded not until by his call he summoned them forth; when he said this below:

Come Daurdabla!
Come Coir-cethar-chuir!
Come summer, Come winter!
Mouths of harps and bags and pipes!

Now that harp had tow names, Daur-da-bla “Oak of two greens” and Coir-cethar-chuir “Four-angled music.”

Then the harp went forth from the wall, and killed nine men, and came to the Dagda. And he played for them the three things whereby harpers are distinguished, to wit, sleep-strain and smile-strain and wail-strain. He played wail-strain to them, so that their tearful women wept. He played smile-strain to them , so their women and children laughed. He played sleep-strain to them, and the company fell asleep. Through that sleep the three of them escaped unhurt from the Fomorians though these desired to slay them.”

If you’d like to see an English translation of the description of Newgrange from the Metrical Dindsenchas, which is the book of the lore of place names in Ireland, take a look here, and ponder this marvelous place on the eve of the Winter Solstice.  I’ll leave you with a photograph of Newgrange I took in July of 2010 while standing on the top of Dowth, another passage tomb in the Boyne River valley.


Newgrange from the top of Dowth. Photo by Sue, 2010.


6 Responses

  1. Well, did you see the eclipse? It was just clouding over here.

  2. The weather prevented it, Simon. I fell asleep under a quilt on the sofa with my ancient cat snoring away on top of me. When I woke up after midnight and stumbled outside, the clouds had returned, and I couldn’t see a thing. Sorry to hear the weather was against you, too. –Sue

  3. I had some strange experiences at Newgrange but this is my favourite description:

    George Russell wrote of an experience he had in the Chamber of Newgrange in 1897.

    As he spoke, he paused before a great mound overgrown with trees,
    And around it silver clear in the moonlight were immense stones piled,
    the remains of an original circle,
    and there was a dark low narrow entrance leading within –
    He took Con by the hand and in an instant they were standing in a lofty,
    cross shaped cave, built roughly of huge stones.

    “This was my palace. In days past many a one plucked here the purple flower of magic and the fruit of the tree of life…..

    And even as he spoke, a light began to glow and to pervade the cave,
    and to obliterate the stone walls and the antique hieroglyphics engraven thereon,
    and to melt the earthen floor into itself like a fiery sun suddenly uprisen within the world,
    and there was everywhere a wandering ecstasy of sound; light and sound were one; light had a voice…..

    I am Aengus, men call me young. I am the sunlight in the heart, moonlight in the mind; I am the light at the end of every dream…..

    I will make you immortal; for my palace opens into the Gardens of the Sun.

    A E Russell

  4. Hi, Peter. I’d be interested to hear your experiences of Newgrange. AE was probably one of the first in modern times to gain access to the tomb, don’t you think? In spite of the tourism, it leaves quite an impression.

    You may be curious to know that a number of AE’s paintings are on the walls of Glenveagh Castle, in Co. Donegal. We spent about a week in Donegal, and during a visit to the castle on Lough Veagh, which I thought would simply be a stately home, I was intrigued to see evidence of the house as a former magical lodge. Apparently it was briefly owned in the late 1920s and early 1930s by Prof. Arthur Kingsley Porter, an arts professor from Harvard who was friends with AE. When we walked inside the house, there were stag’s head family emblems with a third eye on their foreheads, and numerous other large and small hints, to those who could see, of esoteric activity. In one of the sitting rooms with a grand view of the lough I saw the rather wispy spirit portraits done by AE, and thought, yes, this would be a fine place to gather and work with others. Truly spectacular. AE led a colorful life! Oh–as for Prof Kingsley Porter, he died a few years after moving in, apparently drowning in the lough. Eerie. –Sue

  5. […] link to either a regular or tablet version.  You might also enjoy a post from this blog entitled Winter Solstice in the House of the Dagda. […]

  6. […] The inside of the tomb is elegantly carved and constructed.  Recently I happened upon a high quality virtual tour of the interior. at Voices from the Dawn.  While I’ve visited the actual site twice, I’d recommend the virtual tour for a closer, leisurely gaze at the features of the interior.  Here it is.  Notice that there is a clickable link to either a regular or tablet version.  You might also enjoy a post from this blog entitled Winter Solstice in the House of the Dagda. […]

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