On the shortest day of each year during the winter solstice, sunlight enters through the roof box above the main entrance to Newgrange and slowly makes its way up the passage to the main burial chamber where it hits the back wall and thus illuminates the tomb.
Nowadays the phenomena can be witnessed live on the internet.
Annually a group of media and a lottery selected party of visitors wait inside the monument to witness the event. This year the “lucky” winners from a list of over 34,000 people were unfortunately disappointed because the cloudy sky blocked the light which failed to enter the chamber.
The first person in modern time to experience the Newgrange event was the late Professor Micheal J O'Kelly from the Department of Archaeology in University College Cork. Professor O'Kelly first saw the sun's illumination of the tomb on the morning of December 21st 1967.
Professor Micheal J O'Kelly's daughter, Professor Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly spoke to the Epoch Times about the time she and her late father were in the chamber alone on the morning of the winter solstice. Professor Watanabe-O'Kelly reckoned it was the second time her father had seen the event.
Professor Watanabe-O'Kelly was a student in UCC and her father asked her if she would like to accompany him on his trip to Newgrange. “I still remember just being all alone with him in the tomb in pitch dark, none of the television cameras and all of the things that there are now, then suddenly the light come in and touched the back wall it was incredible” said Professor Watanabe-O'Kelly.
“When you went there in the early days it was like 5,000 years ago was speaking to you, now everyone knows about and it's still wonderful but earlier on you had the feeling that you were having the same experience that they had back then.”
Professor Watanabe-O'Kelly was also in Newgrange for the thirtieth anniversary in 2007. She recalled that on that day both her sisters were there too. “it was a wonderful clear day, we saw the finger of light come into the chamber just as I saw it with my father thirty years ago,it was extraordinary.”
Professor Watanabe-O'Kelly explained how her father was involved in the excavation of Newgrange starting in the late sixthies. At that time no one knew about the light illuminating the tomb on the shortest day of the year.
“He had been excavating it, uncovered this opening which he called a roof box, a slit that the sun shone through, then had to speculate what is was for, had it something to do with orientation, what could it possibly be?”
Professor Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly said her mother Clair O'Kelly first suggested to him that it could have something to do with the winter solstice.
Brú na Bóinne
Newgrange was constructed approximatly 5,000 years ago which dates it as being older than Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Newgrange along with other similar sites in the Boyne valley called Brú na Bóinne (bend of Boyne river) such as Knowth and Dowth are designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Brú na Bóinne visitors' centre which is run by the office of public works in Ireland was opened in June 1997 to interpret and protect the Neolithic monuments of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.
Clair Tuffy manager of Brú na Bóinne visitors' centre told the Epoch Times that the centre was set up to interpret the culture that built the monuments. It explains about their lifestyles their housing and their burial rituals. It has an exhibition that includes a full scale replica of the chamber at Newgrange. The centre is also the starting point for all visits to Newgrange.
Clair Tuffy said that the event is now webcasted live on the Heritage Ireland website www.heritageireland.ie, you can also view it there after the event. This year it is also being webcast on astronomy irelands website, www.astronomy2009.ie, because 2009 is International Year of Astronomy.
According to Mrs Tuffy there is great global interest in Newgrange, "last year we were contacted by people all around the world, from places like Brazil, Australia and America telling us that they had watched the sunrise from Newgrange from the web."