Sheep and Lambs in Irish Springtime

The Welcome Return of Springtime in Ireland

While Newgrange’s iconic designs might grace more Irish gifts than other carvings, Ireland does boast many other neolithic sites with stunning ancient designs that also influence the symbols that show up on Celtic jewelry and other items. Like Newgrange, many were designed for specific events in the solar calendar such as the solstice or equinox.

St Patrick’s Day is our huge national celebration but long before Patrick ever came here, the Irish were marking the spring equinox. Pre-Christian Ireland had a different set of beliefs, and not surprisingly nature figured prominently. Lough Crew in County Meath is the surviving site most associated with the day.

What Is Spring Equinox?

Equinox is the point halfway between the winter and summer solstices when the day and night are equal in length. Spring equinox, also known as the vernal equinox, falls in late March a few days after St. Patrick’s Day. In 2024, it was on the 20th. In 2025, it will be on the 20th again, although some years it is on the 19th or 21st.

The movement of the sun was critically important to our agrarian ancestors. They had to know the optimum time to plant crops. In the early neolithic period, the people of this island were shifting from being primarily hunters, fishers and gatherers to growing food and raising livestock. Their food procurement went from opportunistic to planned and managed, and they knew their success – indeed their survival – depended on understanding the solar phases of the year.

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The incredible artistry they devoted to their monuments shows that their interest in the sun’s movements was not purely pragmatic. They celebrated it. Their phenomenal structures endure today, drawing visitors from around the world and inspiring many of the motifs we see on Irish gifts.

Lough Crew and Equinox

It seems that Lough Crew in County Meath, not far from its famous cousin Newgrange, was a major focal point for equinox. Today, visitors can hike to the top of the well-known Cairn T, which offers breath-taking views of the surrounding counties, and see the intriguing stone carvings left by the neolithic Irish. Cairn T was designed so that on the equinox, the sun’s rays would illuminate the inner chamber. It’s the same principal used for Newgrange, where the sun hits the structure precisely the right way on the solstice and lights up the deepest parts of the interior.

Loughcrew, County Meath
Loughcrew, County Meath

Many of these designs feature circular carvings. To the observer, they could be flowers or the sun. We have no surviving resources that spell it out for us, so experts rely on the scant evidence they do have and their general understanding of the people and the times to interpret these stone carvings. Some believe they represent the cyclical passage of time and the eternal repetition of the seasons.

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Visiting these ancient sites can be a profound experience. It’s more than simply seeing the inspiration for the motifs on your favourite Irish gifts. You can walk exactly where our ancestors did and see the work they did with their own hands centuries ago. It evokes a very primal sense of connection across the millennia.