Gold star: Kerry one of the best spots in world to gaze at Milky Way
Published 27/01/2014 | 02:30
It is one of the country's best-known tourist destinations but now the famed Ring of Kerry will become a visitor attraction after dark, too.
Southwest Kerry has been made an International Dark-Sky Gold Tier Reserve, the only place in the northern hemisphere to get the accreditation.
The announcement will be made by the Arizona-based International Dark-Sky Association today. It has also bestowed the accreditation on regions in Namibia and New Zealand.
Ireland's bid was headed by Julie Ormonde, of the South Kerry Astronomy Group, and supported by Kerry County Council and Failte Ireland.
A civic reception to mark the achievement and the recognition of the Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve will be hosted by county manager Tom Curran in Cahersiveen this evening.
"The only other time I ever felt such joy was when I found out I was pregnant for the first time and you feel like you're floating on air," revealed Ms Ormonde, who moved from Dublin to Waterville almost 18 years ago with her four children under the Rural Resettlement Scheme.
"When we made the application you'd always have it at the back of your mind that maybe this is mad and they'll send it back. But I could not believe that Kerry County Council and Failte Ireland are taking the whole thing so seriously and saw the potential of it."
The award has opened up "astro-tourism" to the southwest, which will be hoping to tap into a growing international market.
The nearest dark-sky reserves are in Wales, Scotland and France but so far Ireland is the only European country to have secured the coveted "gold tier" accreditation, which certifies it as one of the world's best sites to observe the Milky Way.
This is because of its geographical setting between the mountains and the Atlantic that block off the worst excesses of light pollution and offers astronomers the darkest skies to observe the firmament.
The Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve covers an area of approximately 700km sq that includes most of the Iveragh Peninsula taking in Kells, Cahersiveen, Valentia Island, Waterville, Portmagee, Caherdaniel and Ballinskelligs.
Over 1.5 million tourists pass through the Ring of Kerry each year but most don't stay.
"But come the night time and there's a whole new scenery so they're actually missing half of what the Ring of Kerry is all about," Ms Ormonde added.
"The whole idea of this is to get a percentage of those tourists to consider staying for at least one night."
The application process took 18 months and then, once submitted, had to be edited and tweaked to meet with the strict criteria demanded by the International Dark-Sky Association.