Sunrise vigils and chilly sea dips mark winter solstice

The shortest day of the year has been marked with events and activities across Ireland.

Visitors gathered at the Neolithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange in Co Meath to celebrate the winter solstice.

In clear conditions, the dawn sunlight illuminates the inner chamber of the 5,000-year-old tomb.

It has been a central ritual in the pagan belief system for thousands of years.

The guests were selected by ballot in September from over 28,000 applications.

Winter Solstice 2018
Winter Solstice 2018

Although the sun was obscured by cloud, visitors from as far as the United States, Denmark and United Kingdom as well as Ireland enjoyed the unique experience of the solstice.

The event comes as it emerged that the very dry summer of 2018 revealed details of stunning archaeological monuments which became visible for the first time as cropmarks in the parched fields of the River Boyne floodplain.

Among the discoveries made in Brú na Bóinne during the summer were this two large prehistoric henges.

— DCHG / RCOG (@DeptAHG) December 21, 2018

Irish Culture Minister Josepha Madigan hailed the rare insights into prehistoric ritual and architecture.

“This new information is a graphic illustration of the extent and density of ritual and ceremonial sites associated with the Newgrange Passage Tomb,” she said.

“As we celebrate this week the phenomenon of the winter solstice, sunrise illuminating the burial chamber of the passage tomb at Newgrange, this stunning new archaeological information provides fresh, spectacular and unique insights into the origins and development of the Neolithic landscape and society.”

Meanwhile the winter solstice was also marked with dawn and sunset sea swims along Ireland’s coastlines, where waters are currently around 10 degrees.


At the beach in Helen’s Bay, Co Down, a group of sea swimmers took part in a brief moment of reflection before taking a dip in Belfast Lough.

They entered the water just before 9am to mark sunrise.

Organiser Sean McGurk said he was inspired by the idea of celebrating the darkness at this time of year.

“My intention in organising the Winter Solstice Splash was to celebrate the darkness – not to hide from it or deny it but to acknowledge and accept it,” he told the Press Association.

“As Kevin Barry says in the piece ‘like all deluded romantics, I find winter to be the sweetest time, and here at its heart, on the shortest day of the year, as we wait for the great wheel to turn, I think it’s right to feel wistful for its imminent passing’.

“It was that article believe it or not that inspired me and also the belief that while it’s great to celebrate the summer and the light, we should acknowledge the darkness and give it a seat by the fire too, and that feels like the right thing to do at this time of year, especially on a small island on the north of Europe.”