November the 6th, 2006, and I witnessed the most perfect sunrise phenomena that can be seen at any of Ireland's megalithic temples. That was the sunrise lighting of the Torch Stone of Loughcrew.
Loughcrew is the current name given for a range of 4 hills in County Meath, near Oldcastle and not far, north west, from Kells. It may seem strange for a bunch of hills to have Lough, meaning lake, as part of their name. This is because its name comes from nearby Lough Creeve and somehow the townlands around Lough Creeve became known as Loughcrew. Creeve is derived from the name given to a sacred tree by the lake where season rites were performed.
The hills on the Loughcrew lands have been named in the past as "Tri Choiscéim na Caillighe" that translates as "three footsteps of the hag", Later they became known as the "Calliagh Steppes" and then the "Witches Hops". Three of the hills then became known as Carn Beg and Carn Mor with Loar in the middle.
I mentioned there are 4 hills. Legend tells of the goddess Cailleach Bhérra creating the cairns on the three hills with herself being buried at the 4th hill, now known as Patrickstown Hill. Carn Beg and Carn Mor are now Carnbane West and Carnbane East while Loar is now known as the Red Hill.
About the Torch Stone
Cairn T on Carnbane East is quite well known for its equinox sunrises lighting up the cairn's backstone of ancient sun images plus Carnbane East is well signposted and is a popular visiting place all year round and popular for summer picnics.
Carnbane West is less known due to the signs being taken down and some complexities that I will not feature in this article. However, its Carnbane West that is hosts to Cairn L This five chambered cairn is the home of a mysterious free standing quartz stone. Beside this stone is a huge stone basin, a huge ballaun stone, with many holes where chalk balls once sat to be involved in some kind of ritual or rite.
At Samhain and Imbolc, at the sunrise of the cross quarter days, that are centre of Equinox and Solstice, casts a shadow that darkens all around while it lights up the top of the quartz standing stone
Male or Female?
Some say that Carnbane East with the Hag's Chair and Cairn like an entry into a womb is a feminine energy hill while Carnbane east with its phallic standing torch stone creating life for the year ahead is of male energy. Interesting thought. My own reasoning is different but the symbolism for the different energies is there.
Being present at its lighting
I arrived at 6:45 am, in good time for the 7:33 am rising. Skies were clear but I could feel a fog rising. A barrier of hazy cloud started to rise from the horizon, which commonly blocks out Loughcrew sunrises. 7:15 the first of the advance red glows of the sun appear but a black cloud forms on the peak of the Red Hill right above Carrigbrack Cairn and the mist was rising furiously to form a fog.
The sun rises at this time from behind Lambay Volcano Island in the Irish Sea, over Tara Hill and Kells to rise above the Carrigbrack to shine on the Cairn L stone, the Pinnacle Stone of Morrigan's Cairn on Keash Corran and the peak of Maeve's Cairn on Knocknarea.
7:30 and it seems the black cloud was set to block the event, but a sudden miracle stepped the cloud aside, the landscape around darkened, and the torch stone lit celestially for about 4 minutes.
After its spectacular curtain raiser the sun stepped aside from glowing the stone to passing its light onto the stone basin. Unfortunately, that part I could not witness. Cairn L is secured by a thick steel railing gate with a very heavy lock. Getting into Cairn T is simple, just pop down to Loughcrew House and pick up the key, in exchange for €50 deposit.
For Cairn L, with the Torch Stone, a kind of essay has to be written to the Office Of Public Works in Dublin explaining why you want entry. That takes 2 to 3 months to sort out and then you pick up the key from their office in Trim about 40 km away. Considering there is no way of knowing if and when there with be a clear sunrise at Samhain or Imbolc its an arrangement that's a bit tricky.
I had to take photos and video by poking my lenses through the railings, but am very happy with what I caught, that I would like to share with you now.
If you click on any of the thumbnails below you can visit my selected gallery story of this phenomena. The video will follow as soon as I can.
dark stone before sunrise
sun is rising, stone is glowing
a few minutes of glow
above, sun that lights the stone
and, left, is an indent image of the sun and the light moves from the stone
sun risen, and now the fog lifts
|A wonderful easy read illustrated guide to Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland by Martin Brennan. The most comprehensive collection of Irish megalithic art ever published|
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quartz standing stone is the pillar on the left and cairn entrance is from the right