Watch the Midsummer sunrise over Ireland’s Ancient East

Passage tombs, standing stones, dolmens and fairy forts… Ireland’s Ancient East is home to many fascinating Neolithic and megalithic sites. At the summer solstice, the Midsummer sun reveals some of their hidden secrets.

In Ireland, Midsummer or the summer solstice takes places on 21st June. This is the longest day of the year, when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. In ancient pagan times in Ireland, the summer solstice symbolised that the power of the sun was at its highest and was believed to be a sacred time.

From Lough Gur in County Limerick to the Hill of Tara in County Meath, here’s how people have been celebrating the summer solstice for millennia in Ireland’s Ancient East…

Grange Stone Circle at Lough Gur

Lough Gur in County Limerick is one of Ireland’s most important archaeological and historical sites – a mystical and enchanting place of stone circles, megalithic tombs, ring forts and castles. The Grange Stone Circle at Lough Gur is the largest and most impressive of its kind in Ireland. Comprising of 113 standing stones, Grange Stone Circle was built around 2200 BC and is aligned with the rising sun of the summer solstice on 21st June. The Lough Gur Summer Solstice Festival celebrates the longest day of the year and has been a local tradition for over 5000 years.

Hill of Tara

From the night before sunrise of the summer solstice, many people gather on the Hill of Tara in County Meath, best known as the seat of the High King of Ireland. Held sacred by people from the Neolithic era, the Hill of Tara was believed by worshippers to be a homeplace of the gods and an entrance to the world of eternal joy. Each year on 21st June, celebrations take place on the Hill of Tara to mark the summer solstice and a different theme of celebration is chosen annually.

More sun celebrations in Ireland’s Ancient East

Spring and Autumn Equinox at Loughcrew Cairns

The Loughcrew Cairns are one of Ireland’s archaeological treasures and can be found 3 km east of Oldcastle, County Meath. The site comprises a group of 5000 year old Neolithic passage tombs. On both the spring equinox (21st March) and autumn equinox (23rd September), the spectacularly decorated tomb at Cairn T is illuminated by a beam of morning light at sunrise. This alignment with the rising sun marks the halfway point between the winter and summer solstice, and a modern-day Equinox festival is held to celebrate this event.

Winter Solstice at Newgrange

Constructed around 3200 BC, the Neolithic tomb at Newgrange in County Meath is best known for its ancient lightshow illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. At dawn on 21st December, a narrow beam of light spreads through the passage tomb until the whole chamber becomes dramatically lit by the rising sun. This ancient ritual at Newgrange has been taking place for over 5000 years and continues to attract hundreds of people who gather before dawn. Each year, many apply for a free lottery for the chance to enter the chamber during the winter solstice. For those who do not succeed on this day, this ancient site can be visited all year round.

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