Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. While the Solstices were not as important to the ancient Irish as the major fire festivals, they were nonetheless celebrated. Of the Solstices and Equinoxes, the Winter Solstice was the most important, since it marked the rebirth of the sun after the shortest day. Many cultures celebrated this time to commemorate the birth of various gods. The Winter Solstice falls between two major fire festivals Samhain / Halloween and Imbolc. It also marked the shortest day or the darkest midnight and was cause for celebration, since, once the shortest day has passed, it meant the journey toward Spring could begin.
1796 – Wolfe Tone writes in near despair of efforts to land French invasion forces at Bantry Bay. High winds and storms would mean the planned landing would be aborted some days later. ‘We are now, nine o’clock, at the rendezvous appointed; stood in for the coast till twelve, when we were near enough to toss a biscuit ashore; at twelve tacked and stood out again, so now we have begun our cruise of five days in all its forms, and shall, in obedience to the letter of our instructions, ruin the expedition, and destroy the remnant of the French navy, with a precision and punctuality which will be truly edifying.’
1821 – Birth of scientific writer, priest, mathematician and doctor, Samuel Haughton, in Co Carlow. Haughton developed the original equations for hanging as a humane method of execution, whereby the neck was broken at the time of the drop, so that the condemned person did not slowly strangle to death.
1843 – Death of musician and folk music collector, Edward Bunting. Born in Co Armagh, at the age of seven he was sent to study music at Drogheda and at eleven he was apprenticed to William Ware, organist at St. Anne’s church in Belfast and lived with the family of Henry Joy McCracken. At nineteen he was engaged to transcribe music from oral-tradition harpists at the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792.
1865 – Birth of Irish revolutionary and patriot, Maud Gonne MacBride, near Farnham, Surrey, England.
1915 – Violet Martin, an Irish novelist who wrote under the pen name, Martin Ross, dies. Edith Somerville continues to list her as co-author.
1924 – Birth of golfer, Christy O’Connor, in Knocknacarragh, Co Galway.
1934 – An Anglo-Irish ‘cattle and coal’ pact is signed.
1940 – F. Scott Fitzgerald dies of a heart attack at the age of forty four.
1948 – The Republic of Ireland Act is signed into law by President Seán T. O’Kelly at Áras an Uachtaráin in the presence of the Government of Ireland.
1957 – Birth of investigative journalist, filmmaker and writer, Mary Raftery in Dublin. Her documentary series States of Fear was broadcast on the Irish television channel Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) in 1999. Her programme ‘Cardinal Secrets’ was broadcast as a Prime Time special on RTÉ in 2002. It led to the setting up of the Murphy Commission of Investigation into clerical abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese which published the Murphy Report in 2009.
1985 – Progressive Democrats founded by Dan O’Malley, Mary Harney, and other former members of Fianna Fáil, following split within party.
1998 – Clear skies over Co Meath guarantee one of the best winter solstice displays ever witnessed at the Newgrange burial tomb.
2001 – University College Cork is awarded a £62.2m research grant, the highest research funding ever secured under the Government’s prestigious Programme for Research at Third Level Institutes.
2001 – The pedestrian Ha’penny Bridge across Dublin’s River Liffey is reopened after a multimillion pound restoration.
Photo: Newgrange, Brú na Bóinne, Co Meath, Mac Creative Photography
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