Sun light in Newgrange's chamber: Folklore

There exists a tale/myth around Newgrange (O'Kelly's Newgrange page 123):
[...] a belief existed in the neighbourhood that the rising sun, at some specified time, used to light up the three-spiral stone (C10) in the end recess. No one could be found who had witnessed this but it continued to be mentioned and we assumed that some confusion existed between Newgrange and the midsummer phenomenon at Stonehenge.
In 'A dream of Angus Oge' (1897, page 130) of the Irish author, poet, and self-described clairvoyant George William Russell wrote (well before the excavations of O'Kelly):
It is very dark,' said the child [Con] disconsolately. He had expected something different. 'Nay, but look: you will see it is the palace of a god.' And even as he [a Shepherd of the Dananns] spoke a light began to glow and to pervade the [perhaps Newgrange?] cave and to obliterate the stone walls and the antique hieroglyphs engraved thereon, and to melt the earthen floor into itself like a fiery sun suddenly uprisen within the world, and there was everywhere a wandering ecstasy of sound: light and sound were one; light had a voice, and the music hung glitering in the air. [between square brackets are additions by Victor Reijs]
Another story of Russell around Brú na Bóinne and related to Sun rise ('The Celtic imagination', 1918, page 168):
In myself as in others I know they awakened ecstasy. To one who lay on the mound which is called the Brugh on the Boyne a form like that the bards speak of Angus appeared, and it cried: "Can you not see me? Can you not hear me? I come from the Land of Immortal Youth." And I, though I could not be certain of speech, found the wild words flying up to my brain interpreting my own vision of the god, and it seemed to be crying to me: "Oh, see our sun is dawning for us, ever dawning, with ever youthful and triumphant voices. Your sun is but a smoky shadow: ours the ruddy and eternal glow. Your fire is far away, but ours within our hearts is ever living and through wood and wave is ever dawning on adoring eyes. My birds from purple fiery plumage shed the light of lights. Their kisses wake the love that never dies and leads through death to me. My love shall be in thine when love is sacrifice."
Like O'Kelly says (Page 124) the whole chamber is lighted up due to this Sun light:
As the thin line of light widened to a 17 cm-band and swung across the chamber floor, the tomb was dramatically illuminated and various details of the side and end recesses could be clearly seen in the light reflected from the floor.
It is great to see that O'Kelly tried to find people who had witnessed this. Unluckily he was unsuccessful, but I found this article of Sonja Geoghegan on the Internet that tells that Sun light was visible in the end recess:
Winter Solstice morning, by invitation of my grandfather. We entered the cairn in relative darkness and silently stood waiting for something that was unknown to me to begin. When the red warm light began to flood the darkness with its liquid gold, the movement toward me was captivating. I had been placed in a specific spot located directly across from the triple-spiral and it was there that I saw the light stop momentarily focused upon the symbol, with all the point marks that capture the light causing it to wink and sparkle with life similar to the stars in the night sky.
I tried several ways to contact Sonja Geoghegan, but no luck yet, might try her possible West Meath family (as archived in the Irish Census of 1911).

So was there clear reflected Sun light from water on the three double spirals or was it reflected light from the floor sand?
Reflection could also happen due wetness leaking through to holes in the passage roof: e.g. in Maeshowe one can see light high up on the chamber wall due to this wetness, see for instance this video (from around 0:50), one also sees the light moving. See also below picture:
Reflecting due to sunlight on wet

The movement is due to the wind ripples in small pools of water (drip water) in the Maeshowe passage. This has been recorded several times during the Internet broadcasts from Maeshowe, Scotland (from 1997 to present times).

Reflection can happen in Newgrange, due to the spring/well water, which was found near R7/R8 of Newgrange's passage (O'Kelly's Newgrange page 112-3):
In winter-time a small stream of water formerly entered the passage between R7 and R8 and flowed through the entrance to escape between K1 and K2. Dr. H. G. Leask, a former Inspector of National Monuments, had installed a short piped drain in an endeavour to draw off the water, but this had little success. When the passage orthostats were being straightened up it was found that the source of the water was a spring which welled up from the socket of R8. A piped drain was laid, running from this point under the centre of the passage floor and through the space between K1 and K2, to a stone-filled sink-hole at the edge of the excavated area. This expedient proved successful.
It looks that H. G. Leask might have done this work between 1923 to 1949, as he worked for OPW in that time frame.

The spring/well or leaking water might not have been there at the moment of Newgrange's construction (O'Kelly's book does not really cover this, although Robert Hensey states differently [2015, page 14]), but could the spring or leaking water be a possible source of the folklore? Folklore can relate back to some 200 to 800 years in oral cultures, so this might have happened with the folklore recorded by O'Kelly in 1960s/1970s, the story of S. Geoghegan experienced around 1950s(?); the stories of Russell written in 1897 and 1918; and possibly after the chambers/passage rediscovery in 1699 CE (by Charles Campbell and communicated by Edward Llwyd).
John Carey also looks into this phenomenon of light inside the chamber in his article 'Time, memory and the Boyne necropolis' (page 28-29). And according to him the present folklore is derived from the time the passage was obstructed due to its caving in somewhere before 2500 BCE, so some 4000 years old.

One could verify this idea, by using a strong light in the end recess (on south side of C10), through the triangular gap of L18-R21 and see where that light can be seen on the floor of the passage (or the other way around).
Light from outside

Some ideas on the sky window of the passage

I propose to use the Sun's azimuth range that could reach the chamber (aka along all the passage orthostats) as determined by Jon Patrick for the roofbox: which azimuth range is roughly 133.7 to 138.5deg (O'Kelly, page 124). Assuming the roofbox has the same width as the passage, the passage will have a similar azimuth range (it might be somewhat bigger). The Sun around winter solstice can reach these azimuth when its centre is between an apparent altitude of ~1 and 3.5 deg. Say the passage has a somewhat larger sky window, so lets assume that the Sun's altitude can vary between 0.8 degrees (top rim of Sun at the apparent altitude of the skyline) and say 4 deg (bottom rim of the Sun).
An excel model has been made of the passage, that allows for:

Visit to Newgrange on January 25th, 2015

Got permission from OPW and did investigations on January 25th, 2015 between 08:55 and 09:30 GMT. First observation was that there is almost no obstruction by the passage orthostats from the central recess towards the entrance. A picture (by David Conachy, 2013) shows that one can see a considerable part of the outside from the central recess. The triangle, which outlines the external view, has been enhanced below in red:
The outside

The below picture (outline from O'Kelly, page 108) shows the left side of the passage and three light paths with the light source at some 90 cm height at the beginning of RS1 (yellow dot on the right):
Reflected light inside Newgrange

One has to keep in mind that reflecting light is not easily simulated. It can be pools of water, which are perfectly horizontal or it can be wet stones that are slanting in unpredictable angles. But a few observations can be made from simulations:
So the investigations done on Jan. 25th 2015 show that reflected Sun light can get into the chamber (using mirror [blue] or aluminum foil [purple]).

Learnings for next time

More precise testing/thinking might be needed to predict/simulate things better;-)

Next steps

Paul Kelly asked a former Newgrange guide about the experiences before the excavation:
A former guide was in the chamber at Newgrange in the late 1950s. Being 12 or so and it was only during the summer time journeying from Dublin with the father. Recalling getting candles from Mrs Hickey and going inside. The light was very poor though and she remembers a dry passageway, no puddles or pooling water.
I asked Prof. G. Eogan (pers. comm. 2015) and he had been in Newgrange before excavations started, but he has no recollection of the status of the passage floor (which one can imagine if one is not aware of a possible importance of the wetness condition).


I would like to thank the following people for their help and constructive feedback: Paul Kelly, Breda McWalter, Clare Tuffy and all other unmentioned people. Any remaining errors in methodology or results are my responsibility of course!!! If you want to provide constructive feedback, let me know.

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Major content related changes: September 25, 2014