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Secrets of Newgrange left for the future.
By Judi Doherty - Irish Times 31/12/81


For the first time in 14 years, Professor Michael J O'Kelly will not be present in the megalithic tumulus at Newgrange, Co Meath, today to watch the winter solstice sun flood the inner recesses of the ancient chamber.

The man who discovered Newgrange's extraordinary, once-a-year light show, in 1967 Professor O'Kelly said other commitments will keep him from the tomb this year. His absence although unintentional, marks what he himself has indicated is a closing chapter in his own research at Newgrange.

A professor of archaeology at University College, Cork, Professor O'Kelly will be publishing a book in the spring that will span nearly 20 years of research and excavation at the Newgrange site. The publication will include all he knows about the one-third of the site that has been excavated to date.

"In future there will be people with better knowledge and better excavation techniques. We have left two-thirds (of the site) for the future," he said. Although he did not know who would continue the excavation, he said he did know "that it will not be me."

That does not mean, however, that the won't ever again see the sun-lit heritage left by earlier by earlier man over 5,000 years ago. "It's become a part of me. If I'm alive and well, yes indeed, I would like to be up there next year," the 66-year-old professor said.

The gigantic earthen, and stone mound, with its curiously modernistic façade, was constructed to allow dawn's first rays on the winter solstice ­ the shortest day of the year ­ enter at the front through a roof box travel a narrow, rising passageway and shine into the rear of a central chamber.

The sunlight illuminates the chamber most dramatically on December 20th, 21st and 22nd although its effects can be seen for a week preceeding and a week following the 21st, according to Professor O'Kelly.

But there is more to Newgrange than mere technological achievement, and experts are still puzzling over why the mound was designed the way it was and what other secrets the unexcavated areas of the site contain.

"There's no doubt that it's more than just a tomb. It was built to create a house for spirits," the professor said.

Although photographs have been taken of the sun shining through the roof box, no photographs have been taken yet of the fully-illuminated chamber. This year, in co-operation with the Office of Public Works, photographers have been trying to capture the show in the inner chamber on film.

And so far, things have not been good, according to Mr. Michael Smith, a Public works guide at the site. Yesterday morning's sun was blocked by lashing rain and the forecast was not much better for today.


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