Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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curiosities: THE Baltinglass Solstice

As featured in The Irish Times Magazine, Saturday June 21st 2008.

About 120 generations ago, some of our sun-drenched, mathematically-minded Neolithic ancestors came up with a brilliant new game, fun for all the family, called ‘Let's Baffle the Grandkids’. The rules were as follows:

1. Without use of machinery, because there isn't any, take a heap of rocks to a random location and dump them. NB: Extra points will be awarded for rocks that are moved which are not possible to move.

2. Shape rocks into a pile, a circle, a table, a corridor or a pillar.
NB: Extra points for aesthetic quirks, chiseled spirals, animalist wiggles, or fancy light tricks with the sun, moon and /or stars.

3. Walk away from it all like it never happened. Leave no trace of how or why or who or what you were. Don't tell a soul, not your kids, nobody.

On the summit of Baltinglass Hill in the Wicklow Mountains is a Stone Age passage grave. As with all such graves, nobody has the foggiest who lies within. But the bereaved family must have been greatly impressed by the trouble the architect took to ensure this grave did something a little different.

First of all, the grave-builders were instructed to position the rocky walls in direct alignment with the North Star above. The neighbourhood flint chiseler was then summoned to scrape a vertical line down a stone basin placed in the central chamber. A low ceiling was simultaneously pitched above this chamber.

Very early on the morning of June 21st, a lucky few was invited back to the grave to witness the Solstice sunrise. The sun was now as far north as it would ever get. Any moment now, it would start heading south. Exact timing was essential. The instant the sunbeams came over the horizon, they bounced straight into the Baltinglass chamber and lit the basin like an epiphany. As the crowd emitted a collective ‘oooooh’, so the architect could rub his hands smugly. Not only had he perfected a calendar stone, he had managed to pull off the Newgrange Winter Solstice trick in reverse.

© 2008 The Irish Times