Equinox Dawn, Loughcrew, September 2012

Equinox Dawn, September 22nd, 2012, looking east past Patrickstown Hill towards Slane where the sun rises over the Irish Sea.

For three days around the Equinox, which occurs roughly around the 21st March and September each year, the Office of Public Works allow access to the chamber of Carin T, the central passage tomb on Carnbane East, Loughcrew, Co. Meath. Cairn T is also the largest on this central hill of a small chain of hills which are conspicuous from many miles around due to the low lying farming land in this part of the country. Within its passage and chamber, the passage tomb is highly decorated with a type of carving described as megalithic art, made by chipping away the surface of the stones that make up the structure that sits underneath a massive cairn or stones.The passage tombs on Carnbane East have not been scientifically excavated though the style of construction and decoration suggests that they are probably contemporary with, or even earlier, than the great passage tombs of the Boyne Valley at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. Knowth and Newgrange have produced radiocarbon dates from the late neolithic for the main construction phase, indicating the main focus of passage tomb activity dates back to around 5,000 years ago.

Catching the sunlight on the backstone of the rear chamber of the passage tomb

The weather reports for the weekend suggested that the morning of the actual astronomical Equinox, the 22nd, would be the best chance to see some light inside the chamber. Although there were clear skies when I left Wicklow at just before 5am, as I travelled north the cloud began to build over the eastern horizon. Though a large cloudbank above the clear horizon can lead to some spectacular colours, it did also limit the amount of time the sun would shine inside the chamber. On a clear morning the Fsun may be visible in the back chamber for almost a full hour, on this morning we had a much smaller window of about 20 minutes. As the event has become publicised more widely, so the crowds have grown larger each year. This September there was a crowd of about 150 people qeueing from before dawn, since the chamber can only accomodate six or seven people, inevitably only a lucky few would see the full display of light.

Megalithic Art Illuminated by the Dawn Sunlight

Click  the ‘play’ button on the slideshow below to view a selection of photos from the equinox event or click here to view a larger version of the slideshow on the website, should also work on the iPhone/iPad and other mobile devices.

The Spiral Stone, Llanbedr, North Wales

The Llanbedr Spiral Stone

The mysterious and intriguing Llanbedr Spiral Stone lurks in the shadowy space behind the last pews of the old church in this small North Wales village. It was found in the hills above the nearby town of Dyffryn Ardudwy by a Dr. Griffith in the 19th Century, possibly near some ruined hut circles, although the original location remains obscure. It had been carried north to Llanbedr where it was placed beside some standing stones. From here it was taken to the local churchyard, perhaps for better protection, eventually it was brought into the sanctuary of the church where it is preserved today.

Hide and Seek – The stone is just visible behind the large font.

Spirals are quite rarely found in open-air rock art, they are more commonly to be seen in megalithic tombs, particularly passage tombs like those in the Boyne Valley and Loughcrew in Ireland. The two decorated passage tomb sites on Anglesey, Barclodiad y Gawres and Bryn Celli Ddu (40 miles away) are the closest parallels for this style of carving and even those are considered possible outliers of the same Boyne Valley/Irish tradition.

Since it’s such a rarity I had been hoping to see this stone up close but hadn’t had the opportunity while on holiday on Anglesey over the summer. Luckily a last minute decision to attend the surprise launch of a festschrift for Frances Lynch in Bangor gave me the perfect excuse!

The church is located along the main road through the village so finding it was not a problem. Unfortunately on this day it seemed to be locked shut. However, I was very fortunate to knock on the door of a local man who not only knew the correct way to open the latch (you have to twist the large ring that looks like a door knocker, not the smaller handle below!) but who was also very knowledgeable in the history of the area and keen to share it.

Llanbedr Spiral Stone

The stone propped against the wall, beside some odd carved stone bowls.

The stone is propped against the side wall of the church, almost opposite the entrance, but tucked behind the font making it easy to miss. Even in the low, flat lighting of the church you can see the nicely executed spiral quite clearly but some additional lighting really brings it to the fore. As I set up the lightstands and tripod I was given a fascinating account of some of the local history, an Irish connection with the church itself and an even more intriguing account of how this stone came to be here. Apparently Dr. Griffith told of other carved stones he had seen about the place at the time he found the spiral stone, though only the one was small enough to transport down the hill. He may have also kept the location a secret so that the other carved stones would not be disturbed. While it’s impossible to verify, the supposed hillside or hilltop location, the size of the stone itself and the type of decoration are temptingly suggestive of a passage tomb. 
The spiral measures just under 30cm in diameter and appears to have two small cup marks associated with it, as well as some plough damage. The stone may have been part of a larger slab which had been broken up at some point.
The full face of the stone showing the decoration on the top left.

The full face of the stone showing the decoration on the top left.

 

 

This stone is definitely worth a visit, even the charmingly warm welcome messages and books etc. for children make the church itself a pleasant place to spend a few quiet minutes . I was also very grateful for the hospitality of the local man who lives next to the church, we chatted for quite some time and only for the fact that I had to be back in Bangor for a pre-book launch meal I could have listened to the local lore all day. Because the stone is located in such a tight spot it took longer than usual to find a good arrangement to light it properly, it seemed my chances of taking up a kind offer of a much needed strong coffee were getting slim. However, my host soon reappeared mug in hand to deliver it to me in the church while I worked, there’s certainly a warm welcome waiting for you in Wales!

More on the Spiral Stone here and here