The summer solstice has been welcomed in spectacular sound and style at one of the world’s finest stone circles, the Grange Stone Circle in Lough Gur, Limerick.
The hugely significant ritual circle, complete with its 113 stones, hosted guests – some travelling from across the world – keen to capture the first rays of the solstice at the hugely significant site.
An ensemble of bronze-age and iron-age instruments – including replicas of ancient cow-horns – played by Ancient Music Ireland, together with the spiritual and Celtic singing of Nóirín Ní Riain and her son Moley O Súilleabháin, cut through the morning rain to greet the dawn at the circa 4,000 year old site just 20 minutes from Limerick city.
Many had gathered overnight, staying in tents and camper vans adjacent to the site, ready for the solstice as it arrived shortly after 5a.m. And while the overcast conditions dulled the eagerly anticipated visuals somewhat, the sense of occasion was undimmed.
Said performer Billy MagFhloinn of Ancient Music Ireland: “It was a privilege to perform here this morning. The Summer Solstice was obviously a very significant time thousands of years ago but it’s great to see that people still see the significance of it.
“It’s a very special morning and there’s no place I can think that would be better to greet it than at the Grange Stone Circle on the shores of Lough Gur. There’s nowhere like it in the world.”
The site’s uniqueness is from a confluence of acoustics and astronomy achieved by its designers all of 4,000 years ago.
Said Kate Harrold, Manager, Lough Gur Development: “There’s two phenomena associated with the great Grange Stone Circle. It is the archaeoacoustics and the archeoastronomy of the stone circle. The archaeostronomy is the fact that it aligns to the summer and winter solstice and also the equinoxes. The archaeoscusits is the fact that at certain points in the stone circle the noise seems to reverberate around the stone circle, which makes it truly unique.”
Majella O’Brien, Tourism Officer with Limerick City and County Council said that the Lough Gur area is one of the most important and captivating ritual areas of Ireland and, indeed, northern Europe. “From a tourism perspective it is both stunning and historically significant. It’s the largest stone circle that exists in either Ireland or the UK and part of a wider ritual landscape that includes over 1,000 sites in a 5km radius of Lough Gur, which is a stunning sheet of waterway in its own right. Many people don’t know about it but that is changing year on year and our objective is to ensure that it is sustainable but still allows the public to enjoy it.”
Visitors certainly did. Said Colleen Wimmer from the US: “We’re on holidays for my son to learn fiddle music and were going to be here on the Solstice. We heard of the possibility of something happening here. I thought it was astoundingly beautiful, especially with the music. You can get a feeling of maybe what it was actually like. The horns were really just tremendous, plus the singing. It’s perfect.”
Wendy Chant from Western Australia built her trip from Australia to take in the solstice at the Lough Gur site: “I have come over to retrace some old memories and this was a part of that journey. It’s a long trip but I came for this and it was moving. Very moving. It was great to see so many people still supporting the old ways. It’s pretty special to have something like this just around the corner from you.”