As the sun rose from the sea – Beltane 2013

Although somewhat expected, it still caused considerable excitement, as I saw suddenly a faint orange crescent rising, seemingly out of the water, from the eastern shore of the mouth of Lough Foyle on the morning of April 30. And if the skies would have been clear enough some days later, then this sun would have been seen rising right in the middle between Inishowen to the west and Magilligan to the east, where the Foyle meets the great Atlantic Sea. Only the clouds returned and no second attempt could be made.

It also left me guessing, how long it would take the rising sun to cross the mouth of the Foyle from it’s most easterly point, Magilligan’s, to the shore of Inishowen. My first impression was about a fortnight but this may need to be reconsidered. Just a couple of days before my early morning visit there was a full moon and the sun would have risen by two or three degrees further east and therefore closer to the rock cliff at Magilligan’s. There is definitely one day when the sun would come up from right behind. The Inishowen point seems to be Moville and the distance across the Foyle in between appears to be very roughly 30 degrees, making it possible that the journey of the sun could take a lunar month, from one full moon to the other – 28 days – since the point of rising and setting moves by one degree each day, except for the two solstices, when the sun seemingly stands still for three days. But this is awaiting further observation.

It may be also a note of some interest that the ancient name for Lough Foyle is Seantuinne – the Old Wave, still surviving to this day as a local name for the sand bank at the entrance of the lough – the Tonnes. Mythology tells us that the lough got its names from Febal son of Lotain, who drowned in it and that the stone which covered his grave was later found by Corrgenn, as he searched for a fitting gravestone for Aed, son of Dagda, whom he had slain. The Dagda approved of his choice of stone and it was subsequently carried by Corrgenn to the summit of the nearest hill, were he dug the grave for Aed and fell dead himself. Calling on two master masons the Dagda erected the rath of Ailech around it in the most fascinating case of castle building on the base of gravestone robbery (Ailech III, Metrical Dindshenchas). But the entry in the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland) seems to invoke an even older memory, reflected in two 8th century poems of a lost kingdom in Lough Foyle: “Loch Febal in Tír Eogain – over Febal s. Lotan it burst, in a marine sea-burst, and Mag Foirinnsi was the name of the plain over which the lake came” (Robert A. S. Macalister LGE Part V, p 207). In the poem The conversation of Bran’s druid and Febul’s prophetess above Loch Febuil Febul is not named as the son of Lotain and it seems more likely that the lough would have been originally named after a local goddess, as it is the case in 9 out of 10 examples of Irish names for rivers and lakes. The Mag Foirinnsi, which could be translated as the island beneath, from the Lebor Gabála Érenn is called Mag Fuindsidi in the poem over which Bran as it’s king ruled. The ancient name for Shrove – Srub Brain, the stream of Bran, may be a last reminiscence of this forgotten king. Coincidently, he is sometimes mentioned as the son of Febal, which could create some confusion over perceived events. In the Metrical Dindshenchas Febal died as a child and therefore should not have been able to produce an offspring, while in the older poem we find Bran’s druid and Febul’s prophetess sitting side by side, mourning the loss of king and kingdom, sadly offering no further clue as to the identity of Febal, who, in theory, should be a woman.

One last remark in this slightly longer post, which is still only scratching the surface, about the annual movement of the sun across the horizon. Sunset and sunrise at the summer solstice mark the furthest extent and likewise the winter solstice its shortest. Between these two extremes the sun, like a pendulum, goes back and forward, passing each point twice, except of course for the solstices, leaving a coupling of the festivals, Imbolg with Samhain, Spring and Autumn Equinox and Beltane with Lugnasad and me with a better chance to establish the points of sunrise and sunset as seen from the Grianán.

The plan below is an approximate projection and will require correction.


PS: East is up, north on the left, south to the right and west below.


Some photos from the sunset on May 1. I do not know yet the name of the hill behind which the sun sets and may even somewhat roll down but it seems to be midway between the Seven Sisters (twixt Errigal and Muckish) and the summer solstice sunset.

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