Pale Rays of Sun at the Winter Solstice


Entrance to Bru na Boinne. Photo by Sue, 2009.

Today I awoke to a gray morning, but within an hour the pale December sun, low in the sky, asserted itself and softened the day.  This morning in Co. Meath, Ireland, people gathered in the dark passage at Newgrange to welcome the beam of sun down the shaft of the tomb.  The sun came out in time to illuminate the interior of the passage–for the first time since 2007.

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.

And now for a glorious concert by Ann and Charlie Heymann, performed at the Moore Institute at NIU Galway earlier this year, where Ann enjoyed a fellowship.  The title is:  Guth Binn agus Téada Oir: Bardic Voices, Horns & Medieval Harps.  Ann and Charlie perform a number of bardic pieces, some quite experimental.  The Donegal singer, Lillis O Laoire, performs with them.  This is a highly unique and rare opportunity to see Ann perform in concert, and it is well worth watching.

With warmest solstice good wishes,


Winter Solstice Musings, 2012


The Trinity on Solstice day, 2012.

This has been a week of visiting friends, harping, sleep, walks outside on windy days, and of course, an opportunity to write and take stock of the year that has passed.

I am fortunate to be awash in music right now:  music that I want to sing, hope to play, and music that is moving through me all the time.  Something that has been slumbering has awoken, and I am the grateful beneficiary of the muses’ largesse.

A few summers ago I visited the Boyne river valley in Ireland, and walked around at Dowth, the lesser-known mound with a Winter Solstice alignment.  It’s within easy viewing distance of the more famous Newgrange.  Perhaps there will be recent photos added soon.

Settle down with some mulled cider and candlelight, and enjoy the following:

My friend and teacher, Simon Chadwick, plays a spare, beautiful Advent tune, Veni Emmanuel, from a 13th century French manuscript.

Vicente de la Camera Marino, who lives in the Canary Islands, recorded a piece entitled “Bid to Me,” by Lawes.  Here he is playing his handsome MacDonald clarsach.

A joyful solstice to you all, and a Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it.


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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