Anthony Murphy shares his photos of the "super blood wolf moon" - the total lunar eclipse - taken at various locations in the Boyne Valley including Drogheda, Dowth and Newgrange.
Although total lunar eclipses occur relatively regularly (they're not nearly as rare as bright comets or solar eclipses), because of Irish weather there is never any guarantee of seeing one. The total lunar eclipse which occurred in the early hours of Monday 21st January 2019 provided an opportunity for some nice photographs. Would the Irish weather interfere with viewing yet again?
Early in the night, at 8.39pm, things looked promising. A very bright full moon (this one is termed a supermoon because it is a tiny bit closer to earth and thus a small bit larger than usual) was visible over Drogheda. But the weather forecast suggested a weather system would move in slowly overnight, bringing cloud and possibly rain to the western part of Ireland. It was hit-and-miss for the east coast.
The first part of the eclipse was clearly visible, through a very light veil of high cloud. This photo was taken at 4.03am when the moon was passing slowly into the earth's shadow.
As the eclipse progressed and the moon was four-fifths covered, I snapped this shot of the moon over the martello tower at Millmount in Drogheda. This tower is built on an ancient mound, reputed to be a prehistoric construction and in local folklore said to be the burial place of Amergin Glúngeal, the spiritual figurehead of the mythical Milesian brothers, who invaded Ireland in 1694BC (according to the annals) to take it from the Tuatha Dé Danann. Perhaps appropriately for the occasion, Amergin famously said upon landing in the Boyne Estuary, "Who but I knows the place where the sun sets? Who but I knows the ages of the moon? What land is better than this island of the setting sun?"
With the eclipse progressing, I managed to get this shot with a 300mm lens from the middle of a deserted dual carriageway in James' Street in Drogheda. In the middle of the day the road would be filled with traffic, but there wasn't a vehicle to be seen when I took this photo at 4.17am.
With just five minutes to go before totality, I snapped this picture of the eclipse at the Old Abbey, a medieval ruin in the middle of Drogheda. Within a few minutes of this photo, and with the moon entering total eclipse, clouds rolled in and obscured the show. I thought it was all over. Nevertheless, I resolved to head out into the countryside to my beloved Brú na Bóinne, where I stopped off at Dowth hoping that the clouds would part.
When I arrived at Dowth the moon was completely obscured and the sky was filled with cloud. It was very disappointing. I remember being at Dowth, many years ago, to photograph a lunar eclipse in the company of Richard Moore and cloud completely covered the whole event. Would this be a repeat performance? Thankfully, after 10 or 15 minutes the clouds thinned somewhat, allowing the moon to become visible, although it never became clear again. A layer of high cloud persisted, in various thicknesses, for the rest of totality. There was only one thing for it – a long exposure. This one worked a treat because I lit up the old sycamore tree on the side of the cairn with flashlight, providing a lovely cool blue contrast to the reds and oranges of the scene.
Photographing ancient monuments at nighttime has long been a passion for me. I've been doing it for about 20 years. One of the things about photographing a huge cairn like the passage-tomb of Dowth is that the monument is in complete darkness, unless there's a full moon. This morning's full moon was in total eclipse when I took this photo. Instead of leaving the monument in silhouette, I decided to try some creative lighting, using a camera flash. As you can see, I paced around the base of the mound (in the darkness) during this long exposure and triggered the flash several times to light it up. One of the downsides of this method is that you create a silhouette of yourself (or, in this case, several!). In this instance, I think it worked out well. One can imagine a solemn procession of ancient astronomer druids pacing around the mound under a blood red moon in ancient prehistory. This was taken at 5.18am, during the total phase of the eclipse.
I proceded to Síd in Broga (Newgrange), hoping for at least one usable photo. For the time that I was there (which was until the totality phase of the eclipse had ended), the clouds were present in various amounts. Sometimes the moon was visible, sometimes it was impossible to see. I am quite satisfied, given the conditions, to have snapped this nice photo. My good friend Ken Williams (of Shadows and Stone photography) was also at Newgrange, on the site itself, and I am grateful for his lighting in this picture!
As the moon began to emerge out of the shadow of the earth again, I headed back towards Drogheda. I stopped along the River Boyne at Oldbridge where I was happy to see the cloud was thinning out again, allowing better visibilty of the moon. I shot this photo at 200mm with part of the illuminated Boyne Valley Cable Bridge providing nice foreground interest for the scene.
With the eclipse almost over, I grabbed one final long exposure, this one with some early morning traffic in it! The moon was framed between two jet contrails which made for an interesting photograph.
Having shared the eclipse photo from Dowth (the one at the very top of the page), I was contacted by Marie Kierans from my local radio station, LMFM, to see if I would be interested in doing an interview about the eclipse with Cathal Dervan on the Michael Reade Show. Of course I was only too happy to participate. You can listen to the interview below:
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Enter the ‘Ancient Sites’ section of this blog for a fascinating and wide-ranging exploration of the megalithic and sacred sites of Ireland. Find out all about the Stone Age and prehistoric ruins and learn more about the possible functions and alignments of these sites. Visit the great temples of Brú na Bóinne, the Hill of Tara, the ancient cairns of Loughcrew among many others.
Explore the ancient myths, legends and folklore of Ireland and their meaning. Read the epic Táin Bó Cuailnge, or the place-name myths in the Dindshenchas. Learn about how the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians came to Ireland and how the early texts describe various invasions of prehistoric Éire. Hear about Fionn and the Fianna, and discover how some myths might contain information about astronomy and the stars.
There is no doubt that the ancient megalith builders had a substantial knowledge of the movements of the sun, moon, planets and stars through the heavens. Learn more about just how complex and impressive this knowledge was. There is evidence that the people of the Neolithic knew about the 19-year Metonic cycle of the moon, as well as being able to predict eclipses.