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May 30, 2017

When is the Summer Solstice?

As the days continue to lengthen, the shadow produced to tell the time on our Sundial (did you know it is Ireland’s largest?) continues to shorten until the sun reaches its zenith on 21st June, Summer Solstice. Half-way between Bealtaine and Lughnasa, the Summer Solstice originated in Neolithic times, when megalithic structures like Newgrange, stone circles and dolmens were built, many in alignment with an astrological event like the equinoxes and solstices. 

Solstice means “sun-stop” as it appears that the sun rises in the same location in the East and sets at the same location in the West for the three days surrounding the Solstice. It is the day of longest light, and here in Ireland around the Summer Solstice we only have only about four hours of deep darkness until the birds begin to sing awake another day.

Summer Solstice Traditions

The Summer Solstice is a time for lighting fires, especially on hillsides, leaving gifts for the fairies in your Garden, making a flower crown and harvesting wild herbs for syrups, meads, salads and teas. Herbs particularly abundant in the hedgerows right now include elderflower (make a cordial), St Johnswort (infuse the flowers in olive oil for a healing ointment), marjoram (add to your savory dishes), nettles (drink me!)  and wild rose (add to your Summer salads). 

St. John's Day

The Solstice fires evolved into community gatherings celebrating St. John's Day on 23rd June, and until very recently parishes would gather around their roaring bonfires. With the need to control fires and the awareness around the impact of burning on our air quality, this tradition is, sadly, dying out although you might catch the flickering of St. John's fires on some islands to this day.


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