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.

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