Newgrange Winter Solstice Lottery Draw
Each year the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre in County Meath, Ireland holds a free lottery to be one of the lucky few who stand inside the tomb as the sunrises on the winter solstice.
Above the entrance to the passage at Newgrange there is a opening called a roof-box which baffled archaeologists when they originally unearthed the barrow. Eventually they realised that it’s purpose is to allow sunlight to penetrate the chamber on the shortest days of the year, around December 21, the winter solstice.
At dawn, from December 19th to 23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates the roof-box and reaches the floor of the chamber, gradually extending to the rear of the passage. As the sun rises, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room is illuminated. This lasts for 17 minutes, beginning around 9am.
Newgrange's accuracy as a time-telling device is remarkable when you consider that it was built 500 years before the Great Pyramids and more than 1,000 years before Stonehenge. Each year the winter solstice event attracts many visitors who gather outside the tomb to wait for dawn, as people must have done 5,000 years ago. So great is the demand to be one of the few inside the chamber during the solstice that there is a free annual lottery (application forms are available at the Visitor Centre).
Unfortunately if the skies are overcast, there is not much to be seem but all agree that it is an extraordinary feeling to wait in the darkness, as people did so long ago, for the longest night of the year to end.