16 Jul 2021
Offering a wealth of stargazing locations, the island of Ireland is home to some of the darkest night skies in Europe.
On a clear night under a dark sky in Ireland you can see over 4,000 twinkling stars, spot some of the planets, the Milky Way, and even see meteor showers and satellites – all with the naked eye.
A bright star in the world of stargazing, the island of Ireland boasts three International Dark Sky Places – accredited sites where you can be sure of a certain level of darkness or sky quality. That’s pretty good going considering there are only 80-odd official dark sky places on the entire planet.
The country’s newest kid on the dark sky block is the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory in Northern Ireland, which is named after the sound of the universe. With accommodation on site, this recently opened purpose-built stargazing facility at Davagh Forest in County Tyrone offers exceptional views of the night sky – as clear as they would have been seen centuries ago.
The observatory’s state-of-the-art tech and equipment contrasts with the ancient Beaghmore Stone Circles a short walk away in the foothills of the Sperrin mountains, and a unique Stars and Stones tour at the observatory will take you through fascinating stories of both.
Many travellers are drawn to County Kerry for its fantastic scenery in the daytime, but when night falls a kaleidoscope of colour provides yet more breathtaking sights. At Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve there is peace all around, soft sand underfoot and only the sound of waves caressing the shore. Here, as well as enjoying the night sky yourself, you can have a stargazing guide introduce you to the joy of astronomy, discover the legends of the skies and the facts behind the stars, plus see outdoor projections of planets and galaxies.
Milky Way, Davagh Forest
Fans of the night sky will also love Mayo International Dark Sky Park, which encompasses Ballycroy National Park and the Wild Nephin Wilderness on the Wild Atlantic Way. This park offers designated areas for astronomers to observe the stars under pristine skies. There is also a visitors’ centre and exhibition space and it is hoped that the regular Mayo Dark Sky Festival will return this October.
In addition to the internationally accredited sites, there are a great many other places that are special for beholding the stars and space on the island of Ireland.
The amazing sunsets on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula in County Cork, are followed by stunning star-speckled nights, while you can move far away from the light pollution to the likes of Wicklow Mountains National Park in Ireland’s Ancient East, or to islands like Rathlin Island off the coast of County Antrim and any of the three Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway.
You can also shoot for the stars on the famous Causeway Coastal Route. There is an official Dark Sky Discovery Site at Carrick-a-Rede and Larrybane which is well-recognised for its low levels of light pollution and good public access. This is a heavenly spot for views of the Milky Way, night-time photography and the chance to see one of nature’s most remarkable light shows, the Aurora Borealis.
With incredible places to get up close and personal with thousands of glimmering stars, as well as many astronomical attractions, observatories and regular stargazing events, night sky-watchers are simply spoiled for choice on the island of Ireland.
OM Dark Sky Park Observatory
Stargazing at OM Dark Sky Park Observatory
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