Monday, 5 December 2016

Winter sunlight does some beautiful things with the ancient megalithic art on the stones at Dowth

I've been able to spend a few mornings at Dowth recently. It's one of three of the great monuments of Brú na Bóinne (the others being Newgrange and Knowth), but is the least visited of the trio. Personally, I'm glad that Dowth retains this almost-forgotten status. It is not on the official tour. It is wild and overgrown, and many of its secrets are in the deep slumber of many centuries. I like it that way. It's a lovely place to spend time. Despite the fact that it is named after darkness (Irish Dubhadh), it presents a very interesting notion - the belief that we must experience the darkness of the longest night before the new year dawns.

Winter sunrise at Dowth, the third great passage-tomb of the Brú na Bóinne complex.

While it near neighbour Newgrange is famous for its winter solstice sunrise alignment, Dowth's alignment to the sunset on the shortest day is less well known. Discovered (rediscovered) in 1980 by Martin Brennan and Jack Roberts, it was studied in detail over the course of a number of winters by Anne Marie Moroney, who published a lovely little book about it called Dowth: Winter Sunsets.

While the focus at Dowth is undoubtedly centered around winter sunset, there is something really beautiful that happens just after the sunrise on these short days of midwinter. The very well-known kerb stone 51 at Dowth, more famously referred to as the Stone of the Seven Suns (named so by Martin Brennan), is gloriously lit up by the warm luster of the midwinter sun. For about an hour after sunrise, these ancient solar symbols are highlighted in a dramatic fashion by the acute angle of the low sun. As a photographer who has spent many years photographing this stone under various lighting conditions, I can safely say that I have never seen them so impressively and dramatically in relief. It's quite striking. Below are a couple of photos showing some of the megalithic carvings, which are thought to be up to 5,500 years old, lit up by the winter sun.

Some of the solar emblems on the Seven Suns Stone lit up by the low winter sun.
The megalithic art is highlighted in dramatic and pristine fashion by the acute angle of sunlight.

The Stone of the Seven Suns is on the eastern side of the great mound of Dowth. Curiously, over on the southwestern side, the entrance stone to the southern chamber is also lit up by the morning sun in winter time. This is due to the alignment of the stone, which is orientated roughly northwest-southeast. There are two large cup holes on the stone, referred to by some as 'Lucy's Eyes'. There is also some worn megalithic art, which appears to be part of a spiral. A good bit of the stone is still buried beneath the ground - only the top third or quarter is visible above the surface.

The spiral and cup marks on the entrance kerb. I added flash to this one because the sunlight was a bit watery.
For a place that is named after darkness, the sun plays a big role at Dowth. It penetrates the southern chamber at midwinter, as we know. Until recent centuries, it probably also shone into the northern chamber around the time of Samhain and Imbolc sunsets (November/February). And there may be undiscovered passageways within its huge bulk. But as I said before, some of its secrets are in slumber. For now at least. And that's just the way I like it.

See more photos of Dowth.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful shots! I will be in Ireland in June so this probably won't be nearly as striking. I don't know if I will get here, but I do want to at least get to Newgrange and possible Knowth. Could you possible recommend a good tour company that deals with small groups and caters to photographers?

    Again, beautiful shots. Perfect lighting and it definitely shows the detail wonderfully.

    Thanks, Gerry Kehoe