The following is an excerpt from an extraordinarily prescient short story written by George William Russell (AE) in 1897. It appears to portray, in beautifully poetic and descriptive prose, the sun illuminating the chamber of Newgrange – long before the discovery and repair of the roof box in the 1960s. Until the excavations, the winter illumination of the interior of Newgrange hadn't been seen for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Watch the video below.
Professor Michael J. O'Kelly became the first human in modern times to witness the winter solstice illumination of Newgrange in 1967, after his repair and restoration work on its passage and roof box.
George William Russell (also known as AE) was one of those credited with the so-called Irish Literary Revival (also called the Celtic Twilight). As a proponent of this literary renaissance, Russell was an Irish nationalist. Other adherents included poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, John Millington Synge, Sean O'Casey and Douglas Hyde (who would later become the first president of Ireland).
In his fictional story entitled 'A Dream of Angus Oge', no doubt inspired by the early Irish saga called Aislinge Oenuso, the Dream of Aonghus, he describes in extraordinary imagery and language what appears to be an experience of the winter solstice illumination of the Newgrange chamber.
As he spoke he paused before a great mound, grown over with trees, and around it silver clear in the moonlight were immense stones piled, the remains of an original circle, and there was a dark, low, narrow entrance leading within. He took Con by the hand, and in an instant they were standing in a lofty, cross-shaped cave, built roughly of huge stones.
"This was my palace. In days past many a one plucked here the purple flower of magic and the fruit of the tree of life."
"It is very dark," said the child disconsolately. He had expected something different.
"Nay, but look: you will see it is the palace of a god." And even as he spoke a light began to glow and to pervade the cave and to obliterate the stone walls and the antique hieroglyphs engraved thereon, and to melt the earthen floor into itself like a fiery sun suddenly uprisen within the world, and there was everywhere a wandering ecstasy of sound: light and sound were one; light had a voice, and the music hung glittering in the air.
"Look, how the sun is dawning for us, ever dawning; in the earth, in our hearts, with ever youthful and triumphant voices. Your sun is but a smoky shadow, ours the ruddy and eternal glow; yours is far way, ours is heart and hearth and home; yours is a light without, ours a fire within, in rock, in river, in plain, everywhere living, everywhere dawning, whence also it cometh that the mountains emit their wondrous rays."
As he spoke he seemed to breathe the brilliance of that mystical sunlight and to dilate and tower, so that the child looked up to a giant pillar of light, having in his heart a sun of ruddy gold which shed its blinding rays about him, and over his head there was a waving of fiery plumage and on his face an ecstasy of beauty and immortal youth.
"I am Angus," Con heard; "men call me the Young. I am the sunlight in the heart, the moonlight in the mind; I am the light at the end of every dream, the voice for ever calling to come away; I am the desire beyond you or tears. Come with me, come with me, I will make you immortal; for my palace opens into the Gardens of the Sun, and there are the fire-fountains which quench the heart's desire in rapture." And in the child's dream he was in a palace high as the stars, with dazzling pillars jeweled like the dawn, and all fashioned out of living and trembling opal. And upon their thrones sat the Danann gods with their sceptres and diadems of rainbow light, and upon their faces infinite wisdom and imperishable youth. In the turmoil and growing chaos of his dream he heard a voice crying out, "You remember, Con, Con, Conaire Mor, you remember!" and in an instant he was torn from himself and had grown vaster, and was with the Immortals, seated upon their thrones, they looking upon him as a brother, and he was flying away with them into the heart of the gold when he awoke, the spirit of childhood dazzled with the vision which is too lofty for princes.
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.