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Sundials in Ireland

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Whether you design, construct, study, collect, or simply enjoy dials with your help I plan to record the locations and descriptions of sundials in Ireland on this web site.

If you know the location of a sundial in Ireland (NOT a mass produced DIY Store garden ornament) please email it to me Click here to email M.J.Harley - member of British Sundial Society

Sun Stick
Sun Stick

During the millennia of the prehistoric era, the only means of measuring the passage of time would have been by observing either the position of the sun in the sky or the shadows cast by it on the ground. A day would have been divided up by sunrise, noon and sunset. Sunrise and sunset would have been obvious, with noon occurring when the sun reached it's highest point in the sky. Shadows were seen to be shortest at noon and other times could be estimated from the length and direction of a shadow.

Tuthmosis era
Egyptian Dial c.1500 B.C.

Roman Dial c.100 B.C.

No one knows for certain when or where sundials were first used but about 1500 B.C. L-shaped dials were being used by the Ancient Egyptians.

By the second century B.C. sundials were a common sight in the market places and temples of Ancient Rome and during the first century A.D. it was discovered that the shadow cast by a slanting object was a more accurate device for measuring time, than the shadow cast by a vertical one.

Newgrange c.3500 B.C.

During the Neolithic Stone Age, some 5,200 years ago, a 200,000 ton cairn of stones was built at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley Co. Meath. This was a thousand years before Stonehenge in Britain and five hundred years before the pyramids at Giza in Egypt were built. 11 metres high and 80 metres in diameter, this huge cairn covers a 19 metres long by 1 metre wide passage, which leads to a permanently dark 5 metre by 6 metre cruciform shaped chamber.

Over the entrance to the passage is a 1 metre square opening known as the roof box. The megalithic engineers, who designed and built Newgrange, positioned the roof box so that the first shaft of dawn sunlight at the winter solstice would shine through it and penetrate the mound. (the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year - 21 December)
On the morning of the winter solstice as the sun rises, its rays shine through the roof box and creep slowly along the passage, across the chamber floor to illuminate the back wall, and then gradually fill the entire chamber with brilliant sunlight. After about ten minutes it retreats back down the passage and darkness returns to the chamber. This precisely aligned solar monument has been marking the beginning of each solar new year for over 5000 years.

Kilmalkedar Monastic Dial c.800 A.D.

Some of the earliest sundials in Ireland, made of stone and over a thousand years old, are to be found in the ruins of monastic settlements. This one is at Kilmalkedar on the Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry.

Lynch Dial
Lynch Dial c.1800

The scientific instrument making trade flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries with notable Dublin makers such as Mason, Yeates, Spear and Lynch producing beautifully crafted brass sundials. This Lynch dial is in the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin

Melville Dial
Melville Dial 1842

Slate was also used for dials because it was cheap, readily available and could be worked by local artisans with varying degrees of skill. This slate multi-dial was made in 1842 by a prolific and expert dial maker from Co. Down called Richard Melville.
Waterville Dial
Waterville Co. Kerry 2019 A.D.

The long tradition of sundial making continues in Ireland today with some fine examples of public dials to be found in towns and villages throughout the land.

If you know the location of a sundial in Ireland (NOT a mass produced DIY Store garden ornament) please email it to me (Click here to email M.J.Harley) - a member of British Sundial Society

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