Ireland’s Office of Public Works (OPW) confirmed on December 3 that the annual Winter Solstice gathering at Newgrange in Co Meath will not be open to the public this year due to the pandemic.

The annual Winter Solstice gathering at the Neolithic Passage Tomb of Newgrange on 21 December has been canceled this year, due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the OPW said in a statement on December 3.

Each year on the Winter Solstice, a ray of light illuminates the Newgrange passage tomb in Co Meath which, at 5,000 years old, is older than the pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

So special is the occurrence that a lottery is held each year to allow a lucky few people inside the passage tomb to witness the magical event. However, with the annual gathering canceled this year, this year's lottery entrants will carry over to next year, according to The Irish Times.

Members of the public are advised not to travel to Newgrange on the morning of the Winter Solstice as access to the site will not be facilitated. There will be security on sites to address any issues that arise and the OPW says that the co-operation of the public is greatly appreciated.

The OPW said that there are plans underway to live stream the Winter Solstice event on the OPW's social media channels instead, with details to be announced in the coming weeks.

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD said: “While we will not be able to gather at Newgrange this year, I commend OPW colleagues for their efforts in making sure the Solstice phenomenon may still be experienced by those who continue the ancient tradition of celebrating it.’’

Patrick O’Donovan, T.D, Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), said: “For operational reasons, the Office of Public Works has, regrettably, made the decision not to host the usual Winter Solstice event at Newgrange this year. 

“I realise that this will come as a disappointment but at all times, the OPW has to be mindful of Government guidelines in relation to COVID-19 and the health and safety of our visitors is paramount. 

“However, the absence of visitors from the chamber has presented us with a golden opportunity to carry out research with our colleagues from the National Monuments Service which would not have been possible in any other year."

A research project, to be conducted by Ireland's National Monuments Service of the Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage, will focus on the Winter Solstice phenomenon at the 5,200-year-old Newgrange monument.

Inside Newgrange. (Ireland's Content Pool.)

Inside Newgrange. (Ireland's Content Pool.)

The OPW says that over the coming weeks, on either side of the Winter Solstice on December 21 - 22, the movement of the winter sunlight coming through the roof box into the passage and chamber will be scientifically measured and monitored, to determine how the beam of dawn light interplays with the chamber as we move towards Solstice and then past it.

Professor of Archaeology at UCC Michael J. O'Kelly, who directed excavations at Newgrange between 1962 and 1975 and who rediscovered the alignment at Newgrange to sunrise at Winter Solstice in 1967, said at the time that one should be able to see the sun in the chamber for about a week before and a week after December 21.

Minister of State for Heritage, Malcolm Noonan TD said: ‘’We are delighted to be working with the OPW on this opportunity to better understand the Solstice phenomenon at Newgrange.

"The solstice has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth, of renewal as we look forward to the prospect of brighter days ahead, a prospect which this year has of course added meaning for us all."

About the Winter Solstice at Newgrange in Co Meath

The Winter Solstice is an astronomical phenomenon that marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21 or 22, when the sun shines directly over the tropic of Capricorn. At Sunrise on the shortest day of the year, for 17 minutes, direct sunlight can enter the Newgrange monument, not through the doorway, but through the specially contrived small opening above the entrance known as the ‘roof box’, to illuminate the Chamber.

In line with the revised Government Guidelines, Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre and the site at the Newgrange Monument are currently open to visitors. Access to the site is only available through the Visitor Centre, which is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm. For further information and online booking please visit HeritageIreland.ie.

You can check out this amazing footage of the Winter Solstice at Newgrange here:

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