SEEING THE LIGHT AS SOLSTICE HITS THE NET
By Louise Hogan
Saturday December 22 2007
IT WAS new age technology combined with 5,000-year-old Stone-Age
Yesterday, for the first time, the winter sun lighting the passage tomb
at Newgrange, Co Meath, was beamed live around the world on television
and the internet.
Hundreds of people travelled long distances to face the sun as it rose
over the Boyne Valley, as locals had done thousands of years earlier.
The morning frost may have chilled fingers, but it provided perfect
crisp weather for viewing the winter solstice.
Witnessed by just a select few inside the snug burial chamber, the
annual event was transmitted live by the Office of Public Works to
hundreds of thousands of people via internet and television stations,
It was 40 years ago that Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly first witnessed the
event alongside her father, Professor Michael J O'Kelly, who
rediscovered the winter solstice phenomenon when he unearthed the roof
Yesterday saw his daughers -- Helen, Eve and Ann -- return to the
chamber as part of the select group of dignitaries and lottery winners
to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Professor O'Kelly's remarkable
"It was extraordinary, I remember seeing it in around 1969 -- all
alone, just me and him. No cameras, no lights, nothing. The whole place
was just illuminated. I'll never forget it," Ms Watanabe-O'Kelly said.
"He was the first person in about 5,000 years to see it."
Outside, incense burned as some watchers saluted the rising sun, others
simply watched while the sun set the roof box aglow.
On a massive screen outside the passage tomb, from just before 9am the
beam of amber light could be seen creeping along the floor.
Inside in the small chamber was Environment Minister John Gormley,
Minister of State Noel Ahern, and a lucky few whose names had been
drawn out of a lottery of over 29,000 people for the golden tickets.
Mr Gormley, who was dashing off to see his son in a nativity play,
said: "It was a real privilege and a once in a lifetime experience."
Also present was a rather chilled Professor John Patrick O'Grady, from
the University of Sydney, who surveyed the ancient astronomical
observatory as part of his PhD Thesis work. Prof O'Grady chose the 40th
anniversary to donate his papers on the passage tomb to the State.
"The first time we saw it was a very emotional experience, it is a
cultural confirmation of a culture so old," he said.
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy Principal from St Mary's Primary School in
nearby Trim, had witnessed the event from within the chamber and vowed
to bring back a small squadron of pupils to see it.
"They are learning about it in school and I thought it would be a good
experience," she said.
Other years, protestors had gathered outside in objection to the
construction of the M3 motorway close to the historic Hill of Tara,
yesterday there were no banners but still many supporters of the 'Save
Tara' campaign were present.
After venturing along the treacherously icy roads from Co Wicklow,
biker, Brian McGuinness, sat soaking up the winter sun outside the
chamber. "The huge crowd was nice to see.Maybe there is a change going
on after the few years of madness that was the Celtic Tiger," he said.
Solstice regular, Cliodhna Ryan (33) from Carlingford, Co Louth said
the television cameras had impinged upon the "moment of silence and
quiet" as the sun rises.
After travelling from Chicago, James Robeson (64), quipped: "It might
convert me from being a Roman Catholic to becoming a druid."