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Established 16/3/2000

The Cygnus Enigma

By Anthony Murphy and Richard Moore

Great swan of the heavens

The Cygnus Enigma (click here to see the documentary) examines the link between the archaeological treasurehouse that is Newgrange, the myths which relate to that eminent place, and other interesting factors which together form a fascinating ancient mystery. It is revealed for the first time how the various elements of the Cygnus story formed an astronomical masterplan in ancient times, and how, quite possibly, the Stone Age people were able to see the precession of the equinoxes.

In our investigation, we examined the relationship between the astronomical constructs of Newgrange and Fourknocks, the Whooper Swan which winters at Newgrange, the constellation Cygnus and the numerous myths and stories about Newgrange which relate to swans.


NEWGRANGE AND THE WHOOPER SWANS:

The whole swan mystery arose from the fact that the fields near Newgrange provide a wintering ground for a large flock of Whooper Swans which migrates to Ireland from Iceland for the winter months which are warmer in this country.
Newgrange is probably the only site in County Meath where Whooper Swans come on a regular basis each Winter. The Whooper Swan population was first officially recorded at Newgrange in the Winter of 1966/67, but both Whoopers and Bewick’s were recorded feeding on large open meadows and bogs in Co. Meath in the last century. However, it is not known how long the birds have been coming to Ireland as statistics are unavailable for the preceeding centuries. In the skies over Newgrange, at least for some months of the year, the swan is king. It is the largest bird visible in the area, and arguably the most beautiful.

Cygnus and Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans in flight, and the constellation Cygnus.


All the Whooper Swans which visit Ireland are from the breeding population in Iceland. The most recent available estimate of the size of this population, from a survey carried out in January 1995, was of 16,000 birds. The flock at Newgrange varies in size from year to year, ranging from as few as 30 birds to as many as 226, the highest number ever recorded at the site, in the Winter of 1987/88.1 In the spring of 2004, there were 45 birds at this site, along with a further 15-20 mute swans.

Whooper Swans taking off near Newgrange

The flock of Whooper Swans taking off from one of the wintering sites near Newgrange.

The Autumn landfall for these birds is in County Donegal. From here, the birds disperse to sites widely distributed throughout Ireland.

There is a certain grace and beauty encapsulated in the flight of the swan unmatched by other species of the bird kingdom. Although awkward in take-off, which usually requires a long stretch of water or land to act as a ‘runway’, once in flight the swan comes into its own. In the skies over Newgrange, at least for some months of the year, the swan is king.

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"The Cygnus Enigma" article is copyright © Anthony Murphy and Richard Moore, 1999-2004, all rights reserved. No part of this article can be copied or reproduced without the permission of the authors. All photos, images and paintings are copyright of Anthony Murphy, or where stated Richard Moore.

 
All information and photos, except where otherwise stated, copyright, © Anthony Murphy, 1999-2015
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