Sunlight entering the Newgrange chamber


At dawn on Winter Solstice every year, just after 9am, the sun begins to rise across the Boyne Valley from Newgrange over a hill known locally as Red Mountain. Given the right weather conditions, the event is spectacular.

At four and a half minutes past nine, the light from the rising sun strikes the front of Newgrange, and enters into the passage through the roofbox which was specially designed to capture the rays of the sun.

For the following fourteen minutes, the beam of light stretches into the passage of Newgrange and on into the central chamber, where, in Neolithic times, it illuminated the rear stone of the central recess of the chamber. With simple stone technology, these wonderful people captured a very significant astronomical and calendrical moment in the most spectacular way.

The photograph on left was taken in the chamber of Newgrange on December 21st 2003 by photographer Fran Caffrey.

Sunlight enters the passage

This photograph (above) clearly shows the event as it happens viewed from the entrance to the passage. The sunlight appears to be split into two beams - a higher beam and a lower beam. This is in fact true, the lower beam being formed by the doorway to the passage. It is the light which enters through the roofbox, however, which reaches the central chamber. The beam is roughly illustrated in the image on the right.

The dawn of December 21, 1999 was a beautiful one. A large crowd of onlookers was present at Newgrange for the unofficial dawn of the new Millennium. This modern pilgrimage by over 150 people echoes ancient ritual activity which would have occurred at the mound 5,000 years ago.

An illustration of the Newgrange beam


For a very short time, the beam of sunlight enters the chamber, illuminating the floor. It is a narrow beam, only 34cm wide at the entrance and narrower in the chamber. Originally, the beam would have struck the rear chamber orthostat (C8) and, possibly, would have been reflected onto another chamber stone, C10, which contains the famous triple spiral, pictured below. After just 14 minutes, the shaft of light disappears and once again the chamber returns to darkness.

The famous triple spiral

The beam of light in the chamber of Newgrange
The triple spiral design on C10.
The beam of light in the Newgrange chamber.

Sunlight in the passage

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