Ireland is known for the beauty of its mountains. Its dramatic seaside cliffs are celebrated. So too are its lochs and coastal landscapes. Rivers center its cities. Forested hillsides frame vibrant towns. There is another aspect of the beauty of Ireland’s landscapes, though: its dark skies.
Up along the northern edge of Europe and set in the waters of the North Sea and the north Atlantic Ocean, most of Ireland is well placed for seeing starlight, the Milky Way, shooting stars, and the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis, all without distraction of light pollution.
Stars, dark skies, and the moon have been drawing imaginations of people in Ireland since ancient times,. On the Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry in the southwest of Ireland, archaeologists say that stone circles found there were built to help people follow the movements of the sun, moon, and stars. It is also thought that some of the inscriptions in their writings in the ancient Ogham script are observations of dark skies, stars, and the moon.
It’s fitting then that the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, which lies between Kerry Mountains and the sea on the Iveragh Peninsula, as been recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as an International Dark Sky Reserve. It is the first such reserve in Ireland, and one of only seven places in the world so designated.
The Kerry reserve is known for the especial clarity and brilliance in its night skies. When you look up on a clear night, you may see bright constellations, the Milky Way, shooting stars, and other night sky features. Kerry has been chosen for gold tier status among dark skies locations. That makes it the first, and at this writing so far the only, location in the northern hemisphere which has been so named. A reserve in Namibia and another in New Zealand are the only other areas recognized with this designation for the clarity of their night skies.
Peat bogs and stars? When you travel to the west in County Mayo in Ireland, you may expect to see both of these in the Ballycroy National Park, where much of the ground is covered by blanket bog. Makes sense, then, that there are not many built up areas. People who do live there have become intrigued by the idea of dark skies and have been promoting that aspect of their communities as a tourism resources and a unique feature of their homeplace.
Up along the north coast, in in the far north of Donegal in Inishowen, stars dot the sky and are readily visible in this lightly populated area. It is also a fine place, if the conditions are right, to be looking out for the northern lights. So, too, is Rathlin Island, to the east of Inishowen off the north coast of Country Antrim.
These are several places where dark skies make the possibilities for stargazing in Ireland especially good. Wherever you are able to step a bit beyond lighted places, though, take the chances to look up, and see what you might see.
In fact, you might wish to take the chance to look up at the night sky and explore wherever you may find yourself. Traveling or not, a bit of silence and night sky can be a way to refresh your spirit. Here are ideas for locations for stargazing in North America and in Scotland.
Photographs by Daniel Bowman, Nigel Cox, and Tim Foster.
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