Friday, December 21, 2012


by Sheila Connolly

I had a nice thoughtful piece about plotting all ready to go, and then I had one of those "duh!" moments:  today is the Winter Solstice.  Since I'm writing this post, you may infer that I do not adhere to the Mayan theory that the world will end today. 

But I will confess to a long-standing fascination with prehistoric monuments, many of which are aligned with one or another solstice—no mean achievement in a time when tools were rudimentary at best, and calculations were based on untold generations of observations and oral histories.  Think Stonehenge (which I have visited more than once) and Avebury (larger than Stonehenge but less well known—I have also been there, including a day after the summer solstice when, yes, there were people there who were hugging the stones) in England; the standing stones in Carnac in France; and the many stone circles in Ireland, with a particular concentration in County Cork. (I know, there is a batch in Cornwall, but I haven't seen those yet.)


The Drombeg Stone Circle is one I've seen many times, because it is a truly moving and mystical place.  But there are other more obscure circles, and my daughter, my husband and I have gone wandering through the lanes of Ireland hunting for them.  We have walked across wheat fields (my apologies to the farmer), and attempted to wade through mucky fields and cross streams and avoid angry dogs and curious cows in this pursuit—not always successfully.  But we relish the hunt, thrilling at the sighting of our elusive pray in the distance.

One we couldn't reach--too much mud
This year we found several but could get close to only one.  The instructions for finding it ran along the lines of, "turn left at the garden center and follow the right fork of the lane for 1.3 km, then walk up the hill."  But we triumphed. The circle was small but lovingly maintained, in a well mown field with a sturdy gate.  We rejoiced. 


I have always accepted the theories of the various alignments of the stone circles, but this was the first time it became personal. Two of the opposing stones were carefully lined up with each other, and on close inspection, each bore a shallow groove on the top, perpendicular to the main faces.  The grooves lined up with each other as well. 

The stones and grooves aligned
I was fortunate to have a compass with me.  No, I don't usually carry a compass, but after getting lost in the dark lanes more than once (and having a conversation with a local policeman about where we thought we were going, which turned out to be completely wrong), I saw a nice one in an shop and bought it.

Anyway, I laid the compass on the stone and sighted along the groove, toward the opposite stone, and came up with a near-perfect southwest direction. Which wouldn't have meant much to me, except to satisfy my curiosity.  But later that day, we returned to our rented cottage and I realized the sun was setting, so I grabbed my compass and checked the point of sunset:  a southwest alignment.  Only a few weeks before the solstice.  The ancients had it right.

It is powerfully moving to run your finger along a shallow cutting that someone made with great effort a couple of thousand years ago, to find that their calculations were so accurate.  It's like touching the past.

Welcome to winter—and to the beginning of the lengthening of the days and the return to spring.  Celebrate!


Sandra Parshall said...

Oh, you always make me jealous with your posts about Ireland! I would love to see the standing stones.

Thanks for reminding me that now the darkness begins to recede as days lengthen toward spring.

Anonymous said...

I love the Winter Solstice. It's my second favorite day of the year. My most favorite is the Autumn Equinox, which usually falls on September 22nd, my birthday!

Julia Buckley said...

Great post, and great pictures!

Edith Maxwell said...

Wonderful post, Sheila. I'd love to see those stones. And yes, celebrate the return of the light! (This from someone who travels in the dark to get to work for way too many days.)