Newry Mourne and Down District Council and the Ring of Gullion Partnership kicked off their Winter Solstice Festival on Wednesday 1st November, traditionally known as Samhain. The festival started with a coach tour with Una Walsh highlighting the Celtic footprints in the area. In Celtic Ireland, about 2,000 years ago, Samhain was the division of the year between the lighter half (summer) and the darker half (winter).
For the next two months, the Ring of Gullion Partnership are providing a magical programme of events showcasing all that is great about the area with a range of lectures, plays, and craft workshops. This area reflects the mix of cultures from the Neolithic Era to the present day. It is an area which has always represented a frontier: from the ancient Iron Age defences of the Dorsey, through the Anglo-Norman Pale, and latterly to the modern border. It is alive with history, awash in scenic beauty and bursting with culture. It’s been said of south Armagh that you can ‘kick any stone’ and it will tell a story.
And what better stories to highlight as part of the festival than Cuchulainn and Redmond O’Hanlon, key local figures in the stories of the area! Join us in Crossmaglen library to hear local man, Réamonn Ó Ciaráin, tell the story of the great warrior Cú Chulainn on the 7 November. While Redmond O’Hanlon’s story will be told by Rapparee Five as part of a unique performance in Tí Chulainn using narration and original songs on the 2nd December.
Slieve Gullion’s mysterious reputation arises from its associations with myths and legends and the wider area’s rich archaeological heritage. If you would like to find out more about how this area of fire and ice was created, then join Dr Kirstin Lemon for a dynamic insight into the geological history of the Ring of Gullion on the 16th November.
If you want to save money on Christmas presents and create something with your very own hands, then sign up for some of the craft workshops happening over the festival. The Ring of Gullion is awash with great artists and these workshops provide an opportunity to learn from the best the area have to offer.
The end of November will showcase one of the area’s greatest storytellers Michael J Murphy with the winter school in his honor. This year will be highlighting life on the border and its traditions.
The Winter Solstice is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. Since ancient times, people all over the world have recognised this important astronomical occurrence and celebrated the subsequent “return” of the Sun in a variety of different ways.
The Winter Solstice Festival is very fortunate to have Dr Frank Prendergast speaking in Cross Square Hotel on the 7th December about his work in the field of Cultural Astronomy. This richly illustrated talk, featuring Ken William’s renowned site imagery, will search the Irish landscape for cultural symbolism and meaning in the solstice alignment of standing stones. Frank is among over things a faculty member of the International Space University for 2017 and contributed a Cultural Astronomy element to their Humanities Curriculum.
Councillor Roisin Mulgrew, Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said “This festival won’t be possible without the hard work of a number of partners and event organisers across the area. What a programme of events, they are providing! For such a small area, this Winter Solstice Festival will provide an enriching experience and enlighten people’s view of the Ring of Gullion, leaving them hungry for more! It highlights all that is great about south Armagh and the Ring of Gullion, a rich cultural and archaeological area which is brimming with talent, myths and legends and history!”