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The solstice of December 22

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The solstice of December 22


Edwin McGreal


Achill-henge has, reputedly, been built to align with the summer and winter solstices. These twice-yearly astronomical events occur ordinarily on June 21 - the summer solstice and the longest day of the year - and December 21 - the winter solstice and shortest day of the year.
The word solstice is of Latin derivation comprising of the word sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to stand still. This is because, at the solstices, the sun stops before reversing direction. During the winter solstice, the sun is closer to the horizon than at any other time in the year, meaning shorter days and longer nights.
The day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of lengthening days, leading up to the summer solstice in June.
The winter and summer solstices are dates which evoke many celebrations across different cultures. In terms of the time of year, Christmas is the most popular holiday to have arisen from the winter solstice while Stonehenge in England - on which Achil-henge was based - and Newgrange in Meath both were built to align with the solstices.
However, while the solstices usually takes place on December 21 and June 21, it doesn’t always work out quite like that. The shortest day of the year often falls on December 21, but this year the druid and pagan community marked the first day of winter on Thursday because the modern calendar of 365 days a year - with an extra day every four years - does not correspond exactly to the solar year of 365.2422 days. Similarly, the June solstice in 2012 will take place on June 20, and not June 21.
So perhaps there was something special in Achill-henge the following day to when The Mayo News and countless others paid a visit. The mystery continues.