Apparently certain years in one’s life can turn into the collected accumulation of everything going wrong for no reason at all. 2014 seems to be such a year for me and so far would have been more comfortable spent in hibernation.
Even the spring equinox basically bailed and was at best half an equinox, with a retreating beam of light making a short appearance between two snow showers, at this stage half way through the monument, and after some considerable wait in the still very cold embrace of what most certainly felt like a winter morning. At this point some anticipating observers had fled the hill in despair and the same three equinox hardened people as last autumn were the last one left still hoping – my friend Adam Rory Porter, his father in law, Liam MacLochlainn, and me, all dressed suitably for the occasion, wearing the better part of what a wardrobe can provide.
Left with very little time and an equally limited opportunity to capture this event, I am very grateful for the use of Adam’s beautiful photos.
More of his great talent can be found at Adam Rory Porter Photography.
Dawn on the following morning faded the stars into a promising clear sky but after leaving very optimistically Buncrana and passing though Fahan, where the hill becomes visible, I could see to my despair a considerable sized cloud hovering over the summit of the hill. Hoping that it may move by the time of my arrival, allowing the light on it’s top, I reached the gate, only to find all the heather covered in white frost, a sight to invoke the spirit of Christmas but no visibility to speak of and barely an opening for the sun to break through. The cloud, sitting so neatly where it was least appreciated, did not move until it was too late.
Persistence, apparently, does not always prevail.
I was more lucky though then in the previous two years by getting a glimpse of the point of sunset, which was rather exciting, because it seems to be so very close to what I call the twin peaks. One of them is the other Slieve Snaght in the Derryveagh Mountains, the second one and in front could be Bingorms.
As nearly always, a band of clouds had itself precisely positioned behind the hills but from what could be seen, it does not appear to have been the one night in which the sun will sink right into the gap between them. This setting probably occurs before the spring and past the autumn equinox.
With more striking sunsets behind distinctive and unmissable hills around the time of the equinoxes, a greater importance, at least solar wise, may have been placed by the minds behind the monument on the two occasions during each year, when day and night, light and darkness are equal. A stalemate between two possible opposing forces, two halves, which are nevertheless one.
In between this years odds a couple of new observations could be made. The first one concerns the positioning of the monument on the beginning of the southern slope. I had concluded so far that it had been placed where it sits to receive the beam of the rising sun on the equinoxes. But that might not necessarily be so. If its position would have been moved some metres eastwards, towards the equinox sunrise and away from the slope, which has been the cause of structural problems in this section of the wall and as a result leading to dire consequences to the monument, than the display of light would still have worked perfectly. Since it is not very likely that such a wide seen structure was coincidently situated on the sliding end of the slope, it can be assumed with some certainty that the Grianán is aligned to more than has been so far re-established. And that of course makes one wonder what other possibilities and answer this monuments holds – if only asked.
A further and perhaps intended alignment, mentioned above, seems to be quite spectacular, would be the sunset shortly after the spring equinox, and on the sun’s return, from it’s most northerly extreme at the summer solstice, before the autumn equinox over the Seven Sisters in the Glenveagh Mountains.
Mostly unfavourable weather prevented me from an earlier attempt but a slightly late opportunity opened on April 10. The sun seems to set just beside Muckish Mountain. and it could have been an evening or two too late for a rolling sun. But alas, the clouds placed themselves again behind the mountains and obstructed a clear view of the sun’s path. Since I only caught the far end of what must be a most magnificent display of setting suns over the Seven Sisters, I can only imaging at this stage the sight of the red sun sinking right behind the summit of Muckish, before that in the gap to the south, after having made it’s journey over the five hills following, dropping into the gap north of Errigal, rolling perhaps even to some extent down Errigal and setting one evening precisely and proud behind the sharp point of the summit of this hill.
And there is one more possible alignment, which sadly could not be observed for the trouble in catching the rising sun on the hill itself. It also seems to take place around the time of the equinoxes. The following photos were taken on March 10 from the little hillock to the west called Cornamount Hill.
With the sun moving further north in it’s rising and in an increasing arc at this time of the year, it seems likely that the sun may just climb, roll up, Greenan Hill and perhaps even rise one morning right behind the monument.
Equinox number 5 and the strangest of them all has brought nevertheless some intriguing new aspects, which, if original intended, are of great significance in beginning to understand the very nature of this monument.