As the world looks skyward for the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 we recall Ireland's 5,000 years of history with astronomy
The Irish have a long and distinguished history with eclipses. Images of the first recorded eclipse were carved into stone cairns at Loughcrew in Meath over 5,000 years ago, but one of the first eclipses, of the common era, was also recorded in Ireland, by an Irish monk on June 29, 512 in the Chronicle of Ireland.
A dramatic solar eclipse is set to take place in America today, August 21. It's the first nationwide eclipse since 1918 and it should be visible all over the United States. It will occur for two minutes as the moon passes between the earth and sun. Stars and planets will be visible in the sky.
Eclipses were first recorded by the Irish
The illustrations are found in the Stone Age “Cairn L,” on Carbane West, at Loughcrew, outside Oldcastle, in County Meath. The landscape of rolling hills is littered with Neolithic monuments. Some say that originally there were at least 40 to 50 monuments, but others say the figure was more like 100.
“Cairn L” received a mention in Astronomy Ireland’s article: “Irish Recorded Oldest Known Eclipse 5,355 Years Ago.” They noted that the Irish Neolithic astronomer priests recorded the events on three stones relating to the eclipse, as seen from that location.
During their research at Loughcrew, Martin Brennan and Jack Roberts discovered that the sun illuminates this chamber on the mornings of Samhain and Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festivals. These important dates lie during the first week of November and the first week of February, the ancient cross-quarter days. Though this may not be the original alignment we are still left with a spectacular display.
The 3340BC eclipse is the only eclipse that fits out of the 92 solar eclipses in history tracked by Irish archaeo-astronomer expert, Paul Griffin. With none of the technology available to our modern experts, the ancient Irish constructed these complex structures, that not only have endured for more than 5,000 years but were built with such accuracy that they continue to perform their astronomical functions today.
Many believe that the ancient Celts created the “festival of light” to welcome the eclipse, that is, they knew it was coming.
The ancient structure of the “Cairn L” remains a mystery. The most unusual aspect of the monument is a tall pillar stone within the chamber known as the “Whispering Stone.” This limestone pillar is two meters tall (6'7") and gives the impression that the whole chamber and cairn were built to house it.
Below is an illustration of the interior. This drawing, from c. 1870, is by Eugene Conwell, who discovered the structure.
On August 26, 1980, Brennan and Roberts observed the full moon entering and illuminating the end recess of the cairn. The moon struck a cup mark on the endstone and then moved to the right to illuminate the bottom of the Whispering Stone. Little observational research has been done on the movements of the moon in these monuments.
* Originally published in September 2015.