The sun (always) shines at Knockroe

Knockroe was a busy place on the afternoon of 21 December 2015.  A glorious blue sky promised an exciting winter solstice at the passage tomb complex known locally as The Coshel.   Volunteers directed traffic along country roads to park in Pat Power’s large farmyard and, at the entrance to the archaeological site, mulled wine was served with mince pies and sausage rolls.  A crowd of approximately 200 people assembled to witness the midwinter sunset and anticipation mounted as the bright sun dropped slowly to its rendezvous with the top of the ridge south-west of the site.   Just as the sun reached the horizon in line with the West Tomb, a thin white cloud rose from behind the ridge.  If anything, it added to the enchantment of the occasion.

This was the 25th winter solstice since excavations directed by Muiris O’Sullivan from the UCD School of Archaeology began at Knockroe.  In the late 1980s, the site was a little-known jumble of trees, shrubbery and debris from the surrounding fields.  Today it is known as an intriguing sibling of Newgrange and Knowth.  Purchased by the state and reinstated by the OPW following the excavations, the complex features megalithic art, solar alignments, a fascinating usage of geological resources, a picturesque setting above the disused Slate Quarries on the Kilkenny/Tipperary border and a wonderful view to the associated sites on the summits of Baunfree and Slievenamon.  The cremated remains of 100 individuals survived from the Stone Age along with associated pottery, stone pendants and beads, and pins of bone and antler including fragments from a large decorated pin of a type known also at Knowth and Fourknocks.  Research leading to the definitive publication of the site is ongoing at the new School of Archaeology research facility in the Ardmore Annexe at Belfield.