After last years tribulations, involving several test runs and too many clouds, only to find myself standing on the wrong hill in the end, a promising clear sky on the evening of June 5, was not to be snubbed at to undertake the first attempt to see the sun setting behind the Grianán at the solstice – hopefully this time from the right spot.
Minkey Hill lies to the east of Holywell and by sight and height would be better described as a roughly flat stretched ridge. A possible interpretation of its anglicised name may agree with it, having most likely the same origin as mintiagh, meaning flat topped hill or hillock.
As I discovered last year no traces of any structural remains nor traditions seem to have survived on Minkey Hill, except a more general memory of fires lit on the hills above Derry on St. John’s Eve.
Watching the setting sun approaching the Grianán from a position south of the two masts, I soon realised that I needed to walk even further southwards along the ridge in effort to compensate for the sun being already so far north and was going to bypass the monument. As I finally caught the sun just above the Grianán, I had nearly reached the end of Minkey Hill. Of course, the tiniest band of clouds came in between an otherwise perfectly clear sky, preventing the sight of the disc being right behind the silhouette of the monument.
With a fortnight and therefore an additional 14 degrees of the sun’s movement to the north to go, I could be running out of ridge by the time of the solstice. So, after all, this might not be the right location either and a smaller ridge below, running of Holywell Hill and to the west, may be the place to position oneself on the night. Sadly fir trees have been planted there and grown rather well, which are restricting access severely and there will be nothing else to see but trees.
Whatever the location of such an unforgettable view, its location may have contained a reminiscence of the past, which could have been as simple as a single standing stone, to mark the spot of possible celebrations held. However, in case of this little ridge below, which does no longer seem to have a name, any indications of its former use have been probably destroyed as the trees were planted. On the other hand, something may have been removed or buried, unwittingly or otherwise, as the masts were erected on Minkey Hill, which, as it is now, can leave a slight impression of desolation.
For a year I was so sure to stand on Minkey Hill on the sunset of the summer solstice. The possibility of the ridge being too short by the smallest of extensions and the reallocation to a site with no view to speak of has caused, for the moment, considerable frustration, for I am certain, such spot existed and would not have escaped the attention of a people who‘s lives not only followed the cycle of celestial bodies but may have been to some great extent aligned to their rhythms.
One last thought on the position of the Grianán on its hill. As noticed at this years spring equinox, the beam of the rising sun would be still halving the inside of the monument, if it would have been built closer to the summit and away from the slope. Strangely enough such relocation would also have improved chances of watching the summer solstice sunset from Minkey Hill with no fears of running out of ridge. The mystery alignment, the reason for the monument being placed at the beginning of a slope, remains unsolved. Neither sunrise or set at the equinoxes and the summer solstice seem to be the cause for its precarious position. The sun may not even be involved at all.