Friday 28 October 2016

Mayo deemed one of the western world’s top star-gazing spots

Published 05/05/2016 | 14:01

Erris, Co Mayo. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Erris, Co Mayo. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Mayo has been classified as one of the western world’s top star-gazing spots by the International Dark-Sky Association.

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Ballycroy National Park and the adjacent Nephin Mountain range have been granted a rare ‘Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park’ status by the international body. The area will now become known internationally as Mayo International Dark Sky Park.

It is one of two regions, alongside Kerry, to be awarded the top star-gazing distinction for its relatively low light pollution and opportunity to see far-off galaxies in space without interference.

“A gold tier classification is an honour reserved for the most exceptional of dark skies and stunning nightscapes,” said a spokesman for the International Dark-Sky Association. “This recognition completes the 360 degree experience that this stunning region has to offer.”

Mayo is one of the least densely populated areas in Ireland, with the remote Ballycroy and Nephin regions miles from any sizeable town.

The spokesman said that the award is “a wonderful recognition for the region’s pristine skies, enhancing its existing protected landscapes and wilderness regions”.

And there now looks set to be a Mayo Dark-Sky Festival between 28-30 October with a schedule of dark sky events and educational programs from Ballycroy National Park.

Ballycroy National Park and the adjoining Wild Nephin Wilderness expand over 110 square kilometers of mountainous Atlantic blanket bog and forest. Viewing sites for visiting astronomers have been designated and graded by ease of access and facilities available. Signature viewing sites include the Claggan Mountain Boardwalk, Letterkeen Bothy and Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre, which have excellent interpretive and parking facilities.

“Ballycroy National Park and Wild Nephin are honored to have received Gold-tier International Dark Sky Park status,” said National Parks and Wildlife Service Regional Manager, William Cormacan. “We are fully committed to preserving our pristine dark skies and are excited by the many opportunities that this accreditation will present for local tourism, businesses and the park.”

The Mayo Dark-Sky designation follows a lengthy period of night sky surveying and quality monitoring by students of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. Assisted by Professor Brian Espey of Trinity College Dublin’s astrophysics department, the research resulted in collaboration among communities in Newport, Ballycroy and Mulrannny together with Ballycroy National Park, Coillte Forestry, Mayo County Council, Mayo South West Development and the Galway Astronomy Club. The group formed the “Friends of Mayo Dark-Skies” steering committee and submitted the application for dark sky status earlier this year.

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