AS excited onlookers prepare to gather at Stonehenge and Newgrange to mark the sun rising during the Winter Solstice, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Mourne Cooley Gullion Geotourism Project are encouraging everyone to make this year a year to remember with a visit to one of Northern Ireland’s lesser known attractions.
Standing strategically on the southern end of the summit of Slieve Gullion is Ireland’s highest known surviving passage tomb which dates to the Neolithic period of human settlement in South Armagh.
This prehistoric tomb, which was constructed at an unknown date between 4000 BC and 2500 BC, is aligned to the setting sun of the Winter Solstice.
There will be a series of walks to the passage tomb this year from December 19 – 22 for walkers to witness the spectacular event when the setting sun illuminates the passage chamber of the tomb. Therese Hamill, the Ring of Gullion AONB Officer, will be leading the walks.
“Not a lot of people have witnessed the Winter Solstice at the passage tomb on Slieve Gullion,” said Therese. “Set on the summit, the tomb takes advantage of the setting sun on the shortest day of the year to illuminate the chamber inside,” she said.
“The tomb is several thousand years old and is directly aligned to the setting sun during the Winter Solstice, which would have taken precise astronomical observation, and we are encouraging people to come along to witness this spectacular event,” she added.
NITB’s Destination PR Officer, Pauline Gormley, believes this is a fantastic opportunity to see the beauty of the winter solstice at a historic location and to explore the local area.
“The Slieve Gullion area is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a fabulous location to explore on foot,” said Pauline.
“It is full of myths and legends, crafts and heritage and there are a number of routes that walkers can follow to explore the local area which include stunning views of Carlingford Lough and many sites of interest including the Kilnasaggart Inscribed Stone which is one of Ireland’s earliest Christian monuments and the nearby Moyry Castle which was built in 1601.
“Families can also enjoy a day out at the recently opened Slieve Gullion adventure play park,” she added.
Geotourism project manager, John Devaney, emphasized the importance of the Winter Solstice events.
“The Mourne Cooley Gullion region now hosts a whole range of events and this will be one of the highlights of our year. In promoting the unique geology and archaeology of the area, our project aims to promote landscape tourism and one regional destination, and the Solstice Event will allow us to link the landscape to the history and heritage of Gullion.”
The walks to the passage tomb will take place between December 19 – 22 and leave from Slieve Gullion Forest Drive top car park at 2.30pm on each day and are all free of charge and weather dependent. The walk on December 22 will be led in Irish. To book your place visit www.ringofgullion.org/whatson – booking essential.
There will be an opportunity for walkers and visitors to find out more about the geology, geomorphology and archaeology of the local area from the staff of the Mourne Cooley Gullion Geotourism Project who are hosting a special Slieve Gullion Solstice ‘Meet and Greet’ event at the Hawthorn Suite of the Courtyard from 12 – 2pm on December 19.
Project geologist Dr. Siobhan E. Power and archaeologist Dr. Vanessa Ryan will be presenting a lecture on the geology and archaeology of Slieve Gullion at 5pm on the same evening. Light refreshments will be served and everyone is welcome. Siobhán and Vanessa will also be leading a free guided geology and archaeology walk from the Slieve Gullion Courtyard to Clonlum and Killeavy at 2pm on December 20.
For more information on things to and see in Northern Ireland click on www.discovernorthernireland.com, visit your local tourist information centre or log onto www.facebook.com/discovernorthernireland