In my mind I could see the sun approaching Grianán in a high arch from above, as if someone fired a glowing canon ball towards it, only to gently settle right behind the monument, leaving its black silhouette burning for a few short moments on the disappearing disc. The radiant red smoulder of the aftermath sky would then provide the most breathtaking canvas, celebrating a homage to the sun with its last and glorious light.
But to my utter frustration I stood on the wrong hill, on the only night a sunset could be observed, with heavy clouds having spoiled all my previous attempts to establish the right spot to stand and witness such wonder, on what must have been one of the coldest and wettest summer solstices for some considerable amount of time.
I am now left with a not particular well working consolation that I have found the location of this alignment, which is not Holywell but Minkey Hill, lying to the NE of the former.
The hill itself is bare and has no remains of a monument nor any recollection of one, except the farmer, I asked for direction, knew of this configuration. This new position and the utter lack of any traceable tradition leaves me somewhat puzzled. And after reading through the Ordnance Survey from 1837, Sampson’s Statistical survey of the county of Londonderry (1802) and A memoir: explanatory of the chart and survey of the county of London-Derry (1814),the Down Survey (links on the bottom of page) as well as A concise view of the origin, constitution and proceedings of the Honorable Society of the governor and assistants of London: of the New Plantation in Ulster, within the realm of Ireland, commonly called the Irish Society (1822), I still don’t know the Irish name of the hill either, nor if Minkey is an anglicised version of the original Irish or just a name given by the planters four hundred years ago, as in the case of Sherriff’s Mountain, next to Minkey, which was the tract of land given to the sheriffs of the town for extra revenue at the time. All I could find was a mentioning of the dying tradition of the St John’s fires on hills at the solstice, which only could be lid after the sun had gone down but was exercised at the time of the Ordnance Survey (1837) ‘only by a few poor families’.
Standing on the right hill and slightly delayed on June 26. Got so frustratingly close.
My lack of knowledge of the entire hill range is of no help either, nor are the modern necessities, which as on Holywell Hill, may have disturbed whatever might have been there. If this miserable weather ever stops, I will go back and attempt to rectify my shortcoming, hopefully navigating well between the boggy soil, fierce cattle and numerous, enclosed masts. With some luck, I might even find an easier and shorter way up.
As last year, there was no opportunity to establish the point of sunrise from the Grianán, which may be within the vicinity of Grainia‘s Gap.
The Feile Grianán Ailigh, starting at the summer solstice, didn’t fair much better, although the Friday Dawn Chorus, with the Inishowen Gateway Choir at 4 am, seemed to have left a rather memorable impression on the assembled of over five hundred, as at the last song, around five, a bundle of rays escaped from underneath the clouds and illuminated the upper part of the southern wall to the great awe and delight of all spectators. Sadly the rest of the events was a matter of frozen stiff and a good chance of being additional soaked to the bone, leaving many at home as a result, with no intention of challenging the exposed situation of this hill.
If anything worthwhile came out of this solstice of discontent, it would be a better understanding of the harshness of living conditions presumed on Greenan Hill and my point that, apart from being too small to be a royal residence or ‘caput‘, this site may not have been selected as such, for the difficulties of maintaining the basics of creature comfort and the wisdom of wretched weather being more frequent than one now would have thought.