Last time I witnessed a full solar eclipse was back in Ireland. It was August 1999 and it was billed as “the astronomical event of the Millennium”: probably the most-viewed eclipse event in human history.
I was back from my world travels, temping in Dublin, analysing market research documentation for a chain of Irish sandwich bars. My “favourite” suggestion was for a sandwich with sausage, cheese, Bovril and crisps.
The 11th of August was a Wednesday. I have no clue how I managed to be in my parents’ back garden at eleven in the morning, but I was. My Dad, who had been very ill that year, was not long out of hospital. Now and again it’s handy to have a structural steel welder in the family, and today was one of those days.
It was a beautiful summer’s day, with the flowers bursting from the ground and the birds singing from every tree. I was looking every inch the professional woman-about-town in my cream Chanel-style bouclé suit and Executive Heels. We stood in the back garden with Daddy’s welding mask and waited. We would not have been aware that the eclipse had even started if it had not been for that welding mask.
Dad and I were beside ourselves with excitement, doing the whole countdown thing. Mum was a bit nonplussed about it all, but like all Doyle women she loves an “event” and this was one. Also, that’s one of my favourite photos of my mother, ever.
Near eleven o’clock on the eleventh of August, the sunshine began to dim. It was eerie. It was different to a cloud going in front of the sun: we shivered as the very heat of the sun was blocked. Irish sunsets and dusks go on for literally hours in the height of summer, but that day we experienced a fast-forward sunset. The cat was seriously unimpressed. The birds fell silent. The sun went out.
We imagined how shocking it must have been when the solar eclipse (allegedly) occurred just after Jesus Christ died on Good Friday. Even weeks from the beginning of the twenty-first century, with all our scientific knowledge, there was something mysterious and sinister about those few minutes when the world went dark and the birds fell silent at the very height of the day.
Moments later, the sun started to emerge and the spell was broken.
Fast-forward again fifteen years and more. I sit on the other side of the world, jealously watching the countdown as the northern hemisphere awaits the next total solar eclipse. I remember that summer’s day back in Dublin, sharing a moment in earth’s history with my parents, my father the armchair explorer so excited to witness something of such magnitude from the comfort of his back garden.
This one’s for you, Daddy.