25th December 2012

Winter Solstice – Setting Sun illuminates Slieve Gullion Passage tomb

Set on the summit of Slieve Gullion is the highest surviving passage tomb in Ireland. It is known locally as ‘the Calliagh Berra’s House’.

The Stone Age monument dates to between 4000 B.C. and 2500 B.C., making it up to 6000 years old. That could be 3000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and nearly 4000 years older than England’s Stonehenge! Or as old as them anyway…The tomb is aligned to the setting sun at the winter solstice.

Dr Frank Prendergast of the Dublin Institute of Technology has worked on all of Ireland’s passage graves and Slieve Gullion is one of his favourites according to the Irish Times.

In the article he said “Slieve Gullion in Armagh is a lovely place, there is a fabulous walk, not too challenging [leading you to a] single passage tomb on its summit; at the setting sun around the days of the winter solstice you should have a nice alignment.”

It was this that inspired a group to head up on the 21st December 2011.

Ursula Mhic An tSaoir, who lead the group, said  “Thug an cuid is mó dúinn cuairt ar an tuama pasáiste ar Shliabh gCuillinn cheana féin ach ní fhaca duine ar bith grianstad an gheimhridh riamh. Ag teacht isteach sa seomra  bhí barr an tsléibhe agus an seomra féin faoi bhrat ceo ach díreach roimh luí na gréine bhris an solas fríd an cheo agus cúl an tseomra le feiceáil go soiléir – ar fheabhas!’

‘Most of us had visited the passage tomb on Sliabh gCuillinn before, but none had witnessed the winter solstice. Arriving in the chamber before sunset the chamber and mountain top were enshrouded in mist, however just before sunset the light broke through the clouds and the back wall chamber was clearly visible. Spectacular!’

Darren Rice Ring of Gullion Officer added “The people who built this tomb must have been astromers, they knew about the winter solstice, where the sun would set, and they built a passage tomb taking advantage of the setting sun on the shortest day of the year to illuminate the chamber inside. This took precise astronomical observations and must have been extremely important to the local people at the time.”

He added “It was breath taking when the sun finally hit the back of the chamber and it is amazing just how bright it gets, we certainly did see a very nice alignment.”

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