Friday, 31 August 2012

You can now pre-order Newgrange book from Liffey Press

I am delighted to report that you can now pre-order 'Newgrange - Monument to Immortality' from The Liffey Press. The text of the book was completed a couple of weeks ago and I will shortly deliver the photos. All going well, the book will be published in mid October and will be launched around that time.

At this stage I expect there will be a major launch in Drogheda or the Boyne Valley followed by a number of smaller launches around Ireland. There will probably be a talks tour too, and I have already tentatively agreed a couple of speaking engagements to help promote the book.

This has been in some ways a very personal and philosophical journey for me. This is not a history of Newgrange necessarily. It does cover a lot of the archaeology and the history of exploration of Newgrange, but it is a much broader work in the sense that it looks at spirituality and maybe the reasons why we are so fascinated by ancient sites such as Newgrange. Here is the blurb from the Liffey Press website which sums it up nicely:

Many people who visit the ancient and magnificent Newgrange monument in the Boyne Valley are driven by some deep longing to connect with their most distant roots. The giant 5,000-year-old megalithic construction evokes awe and wonderment, and a keen sense of melancholy for the community of people who created and fashioned it from stone and earth in the remote past, a people now lost to time. For the past two centuries, archaeologists, antiquarians, writers and researchers have been probing Newgrange in the hope of revealing something about its purpose, and something about the mysterious people of the New Stone Age who created giant structures using primitive technology. What has become clear from these investigations is that Newgrange is a uniquely special place, and that its construction was carried out not by a grizzly mob of grunting barbarians, but rather by an advanced agrarian community who had developed keen skills in the sciences of astronomy, engineering and architecture. In Newgrange: Monument to Immortality, writer and researcher Anthony Murphy goes deep into the mind and soul of his neolithic ancestors to attempt to draw forth some answers to these questions. In a deeply moving, poetic and philosophical exploration, he looks beyond the archaeology and the astronomy to reveal a much more profound and sacred vision of the very spirit of the people who were driven to such marvellous and wondrous efforts.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Where has this Roscommon Bronze Age landscape gone?

This is the sort of thing that makes my blood boil. I was perusing 'Reading the Irish Landscape', an excellent book written by the late Frank Mitchell in collaboration with Michael Ryan. It was first published in 1986 but I have the 2003 edition which is a revised edition. On page 188 there is a lovely aerial photo of a 'surviving' Bronze Age landscape at Knockadoobrusna, County Roscommon, consisting of ritual sites including earthen embanked enclosures, mounds and barrows. That photo is reproduced below:

I decided I would have a look for this fairly pristine Bronze Age landscape on Google Earth, to see if I could find it. You can imagine my horror, upon zooming in on the quaintly named Knockadoobrusna, and seeing that some of the sites in the above photo from the Mitchell/Ryan book appear to have been obliterated by a golf club. See the Google Earth image below:

Obviously I am not armed with enough knowledge to say whether the construction of the golf club was responsible for the damage, but it is clear from comparing these photos that the two monuments visible in the foreground of the Mitchell/Ryan photo appear to have been largely obliterated in the second.

I wonder do the golfers in Boyle really know when they are driving the wee white ball around the place that this landscape, not too long ago, was a fairly well preserved Bronze Age landscape dating back perhaps 4,000 years? And that some of the monuments that had survived until recently were now obliterated under the surface of their fairways?

It is typical of this country, and the sort of madness that prevailed here during the decade or so of the so-called Celtic Tiger, that our most ancient treasures were sacrificed in the name of 'development', and that, ironically, this development now consists in many cases of 'ghost estates' - unfinished housing developments - and all manner of ill conceived projects which have blighted the landscape. The term 'concrete jungle' may be something of a cliche, but it applies to many places around Ireland which were once beautiful. Take, for example, the once quaint and attractive seaside village of Bettystown, County Meath, now a mass of concrete consisting of apartments, retail developments and housing estates.

The site of the destroyed henge (lower left in the Mitchell/Ryan image) at Boyle Golf Course,
Knockadoobrusna, Roscommon. The outline of the enclosure can still be seen.
Unsurprisingly, Roscommon County Council skirts around the issue of where the Boyle monuments have gone in its  County Development plan, even referring to Bronze Age barrow monuments "such as Knockadoobrusna close to Boyle Golf Course". What about the bloody sites that were destroyed???? I say unsurprisingly because, in my opinion, local authorities around Ireland in the past couple of decades have become almost completely pro-development, and at almost any price. Sure what's a few auld ringforts eh?

Welcome to modern Ireland. Well, you can have your bloody stupid golf course. Frank Mitchell would, no doubt, turn in his grave.

Further reading:

Monday, 27 August 2012

At the Whitechurch standing stones in Co. Wexford

This is me at the site of three standing stones at Whitechurch, County Wexford, last week. It was really something special to see an alignment of three standing stones, which are quite obviously lined up towards Slieve Coillte, which you can see in the background of the photograph. The alignment is too far north for summer solstice sunrise, but may point towards moonrise on the major northern standstill of the moon. Further investigation will take place to determine the alignment.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

On the scent of an ancient mystery in Wexford

During the past week or so I have visited County Wexford, where I had been invited by the newly formed JFK Heritage Group to help them research ancient sites of interest around the Slieve Coillte area, not far from New Ross.
Members of the JFK Park Memorial Heritage Group, from left: Mairead Cairbre,
Tommy Grennan, John Flynn, Simon Kennedy and Jim Foley with (third from left)
Fr. Seán Ó Duinn and (third from right) Anthony Murphy.

It was a very exciting week. Perhaps the big discovery of the week was the probable location of the Teampall Geal, an ancient healing centre at Whitechurch, very close to the location of a standing stone alignment of three stones which point towards Slieve Coillte. Several stones which were possibly part of this 'temple of healing' remain, in a heap under a sycamore tree at Whitechurch. They include what members of the JFK group think might be Dolerite, a blueish granite, from which the famous 'blue stones' at Stonehenge are made. These stones are said to have curative properties.

The stone alignment at Whitechurch might point to the Major Northern Standstill rising position of the moon, but further observations will have to be made to determine if that is the case.

The investigations took place during Heritage Week, with a public meeting on Wednesday last at the JFK Arboretum followed by a symposium on Saturday night to discuss findings and future lines of research.

On Wednesday, the group was joined by Fr. Seán Ó Duinn, of Glenstal Abbey, author of 'In Search of the Awesome Mystery'. I was delighted to meet Fr. Seán, whose writings on pre-Christian and Early Christian Ireland are very insightful.

Friday, 10 August 2012

International Space Station passes through Equuleus

The 'streak of light' you see in this picture is the International Space Station, caught in a 30-second exposure travelling from west to east from the direction of the constellation Aquila (on right of photo), through Equuleus and on towards Pegasus.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Perseid meteors to rain down on earth!

Celestial Fireworks This Weekend Perseid meteors to rain down on Earth over coming week Earth is beginning to make its way through a cloud of dust and debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, and already people all over Ireland have spotted extremely bright Perseid meteors caused by this dust.

The meteors will appear to originate from Perseus.
It is expected that on Saturday night, observers will get to see hundreds of meteors per hour. When debris enters Earth's atmosphere it lights up in the sky as meteors - also known as shooting stars - and the Perseid Meteor Shower is one of the best meteor showers of the year.

Already, Astronomy Ireland has received several reports from around the country of people spotting many bright meteors in the night sky. The best time to see the Perseids will be after midnight on Saturday night and into Monday morning (August 11th to 12th), but they can be seen at any time in the days before and after this peak once it's dark.

Perseid meteors can glow very brightly, and with no Moon to cause a glare they will be easily visible. In fact, they sometimes burn so brightly that they produce fireballs! The Perseid meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Perseus in the north-eastern sky, but can be seen anywhere in the sky.

No telescopes or binoculars are needed to see the Perseids as they are bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. "On Tuesday night I got to see four extremely bright meteors in less than half an hour! The Moon will be out of the way so it is definitely worth going outside to try to see some Perseids for what is already proving to be an excellent shower," said David Moore, Chairman of Astronomy Ireland.

"Sometimes large pieces of debris enter the atmosphere and flare up extremely brightly as fireballs - these can often land on the ground! We want everyone to go outside every night over the next week and take part in our Nationwide Meteor Watch" Astronomy Ireland urges people to go outside this week and next week to observe the meteors to take part in the Nationwide Meteor Watch.

By doing so, people all over Ireland can take part in real scientific research! For more information on the Perseid Meteor Shower and how to take part in the Nationwide Meteor Watch please visit Some of these reports will then be published in Astronomy Ireland magazine in the coming months.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Cygnus the swan and Lyra the lyre

The constellation we know today as Cygnus, meaning The Swan, was probably also known in ancient Ireland as a swan. There is abundant swan mythology in Ireland's ancient lore, and there is a very strong connection to Newgrange with swans, especially the Whooper Swan which winters there. This is discussed in a chapter called The Cygnus Enigma in 'Island of the Setting Sun'. Above is a photo of the cross-shaped Cygnus with its bright star Deneb, and (above to the right), the constellation of Lyra, the Lyre, with its bright star, Vega.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Absolutely thrilled with starscapes on the Nikon D7000

Tonight was my first real opportunity to use the new Nikon D7000 to take star shots, and I am absolutely enthralled and delighted with the results. Above is a photo of the Cassiopeia area of the sky. I used a reasonably high ISO, of 1250, and an exposure of about 10 seconds. I really didn't expect to see so many stars in such a short exposure. This is amazing. I am really, really, greatly impressed. I've used the full resolution image with 90% jpeg settings so that you can appreciate what I am talking about.