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Summer solstice marked in Ireland. What is the solstice and why is it celebrated?

The summer solstice is the longest day and shortest night of the calendar year, and marks the beginning of the astronomical summer

The summer season has finally arrived on the island of Ireland and despite a rainy start, and more cloud and rain expected throughout the week, forecasters predict a heatwave could soon be on the way.

The start of the sunny season is officially marked by the summer solstice, otherwise known as the longest day of the year, which signals the start of brighter evenings.

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Here’s when the event falls this year and how it is celebrated.

Summer solstice

When is the longest day of the year in 2022?

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice - also known as midsummer - takes place between 20 and 22 June every year, when the sun travels along its northernmost path in the sky.

The exact moment of the solstice is when the Earth is closest to the sun and that’s today, 21 June.

The sun will set at 9.22pm, meaning the UK and Ireland will enjoy roughly 16 hours and 43 minutes of daylight.

What happens during the summer solstice?

The summer solstice takes place when the Earth arrives at the point in its orbit where the North Pole is at its maximum tilt toward the sun and is directly above the Tropic of Cancer.

This results in the longest day and shortest night of the calendar year, and marks the beginning of the astronomical summer, which ends with the autumn equinox on 22 or 23 September in the Northern Hemisphere.

The day signals the moment the sun’s path stops moving northward in the sky, with the days gradually becoming shorter afterwards as we move towards winter.

However, the days won’t become noticeably shorter for a while, with the shortest day of the year not due until 21 December, known as the winter solstice.

There are two solstices each year, with one occurring in the winter and the other in the summer.

During the winter solstice, the Earth’s axis is tilted furthest away from the sun directly over the Tropic of Capricorn bringing only a few hours of daylight.

Historically, the summer solstice used to take place between the planting and harvesting of crops, giving people who worked on the land time to relax. This is also the reason many people would traditionally get married in June, and why it is still a popular month for weddings.

The summer solstice has been seen as a significant time of the year in many cultures and inspired many festivals and midsummer celebrations over the years.

In ancient Germanic, Slavic and Celtic tribes, pagans celebrated midsummer with bonfires and dancing.

The Pagan festival of Litha also starts on the eve of the summer solstice, and celebrates the midsummer and the power of the sun god.

According to Pagan folklore, evil spirits walk the Earth more freely on the solstice, so people wear protective garlands of herbs and flowers to ward them off.

Other traditions include lighting bonfires, having picnics, watching the sun rise and Maypole dancing.

Thousands of people visited Stonehenge on the summer solstice to see the sun rise at the heritage site. The rising sun only reaches the middle of the stones on one day of the year, when it shines on the central altar.

The sarsen stones, which were put up at the centre of the site in around 2500 BC, were carefully aligned to line up with the movements of the sun.

Important sites where large crowds gather to celebrate the solstice in Ireland include An Grianán Fort in Inishowen, and Cavehill in Belfast.