The summer solstice and new beginnings

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Last Friday I, along with several hundred others, stood inside Grianan Fort as the sun rose over Donegal on the longest day of the year.

It also happened to be the day Derry officially became Music City - and, coincidentally, it also happened to be my 37th birthday.

The plans had been made a few weeks before to make the trek to Grianan at an ungodly hour of the morning and it was only the night before, when I was setting my alarm for 2.30am that I started to doubt my sanity.

This was compounded by the actual arrival of 2.30am and the beeping of my alarm. Hauling myself out of my warm bed into a cold, dark house to get dressed and ready for the off seemed wrong.

And still, I did it - dressing in the darkness and leaving my family sleeping before heading off in the car to pick up my sister and my aunt and drive out for the road.

For many people living in or around Derry, Grianan is a focal point. It certainly is one of the big players in my childhood memories. As a child my sister and aunt and I would jump on our bikes and cycle regularly out past the “dragon’s teeth” and on to Grianan with a picnic of a packet of custard creams and a couple of bottles of diluted Kia Ora.

We would march up the hill, pushing our bikes as we went, singing, “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music before spending an hour or more playing at the old fort - climbing up and down the walls and in and out of the tunnels.

Then it would be time for a (very) quick journey back downhill on our bikes, freewheeling as we went (with not a thought of a safety helmet) before heading back in the road to Derry. There, quite often, we would decide we enjoyed the run so much we would head back out again.

It’s a bit different at half three in the morning. As it happened we stood shivering in the early dawn light before being shuttled up the old fort in a minibus.

We stood around for an hour or more, hoping the sun would come out and we would catch a glimpse of it. And then, at after five when we were getting ready to go home we saw the glimpse of red light over the ancient walls.

Going to Grianan as a child was magical. Going as an adult, to welcome in a new day and new year was something else altogether.

I had been feeling pretty low last week - probably focusing on my age a little too much - but that morning, there with friends huddled together, things felt better. It was my own, personal, City of Culture highlight.