Be captivated by Kerry’s Dark Sky Reserve

From the moonlight picking up the waves as they crash into shore to the uninterrupted twinkle of the night sky, there are very few things as awe inspiring as a night sky full of stars on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Kerry’s Dark Sky Reserve is the perfect place to look skyward this Autumn as the dark evenings approach, and rediscover a night sky full of gleaming jewels. There’s a special feeling when you stand under the canopy of a moonless, star-filled sky. It inspires awe and wonder at the world around us and the heavens above.

Backed by mountains and corralled by the crashing sea, Kerry’s Dark Sky Reserve stretches from Kells Bay to Caherdaniel, a rare area of exceptional quality, starry nights and nocturnal environment, a protected place of natural darkness which aims to exclude light pollution. The incredible thing about this part of the Wild Atlantic Way is it is the only Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserve in the Northern Hemisphere, and one of only three in the world, the others being a nature reserve in Namibia and Aoraki Mackenzie in New Zealand.

Kerry is uniquely attractive to the star-gazing community as they say it is the only place you can have that night vision and still be close enough to civilisation to enjoy a break away with so much else to do.

credit: Dave Connolly Sigma Brand Ambassador

After a day of adventure and discovery along the Wild Atlantic Way, the transformation of the route after sun sets is, as the phrase goes: ‘night and day’. Everything looks so distinctive and mystical when only partially lit by the moon and the stars.

There is something so freeing about taking footstep after footstep out into the darkness using the stars as your guide. Away from the distractions of the everyday, you learn to trust your instinct again – allowing yourself to reconnect with the wilds of nature.

Immersed in the total darkness, you can truly understand the vastness and artistry of the night sky. Although it is a constant, it is only when you are on the Wild Atlantic Way that you can appreciate the sublime beauty above.

Stargazers on Kerry’s Dark Sky Reserve

Discovering the Wild Atlantic Way's skies

While all you need to do is look up to see the wonders, there are particular scenic points in the area to make the most of the stunning views.

To spot the constellations from upon high, head to Coomanaspic viewing point, one of the highest passes in Ireland –bringing you closer to the stars – with the moonlight illuminating the mystical Skellig Islands as they sit silhouetted on the horizon. Bray Head on Valentia Island, a Discovery Point on the Wild Atlantic Way, also offers a wonderful vantage point to set up and scan the sky for heavenly objects.

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There are plenty of expert locals here to act as cosmic guides for any visitors eager to chase the stars. In the Gaeltacht area of Waterville, you can stay in Dromid Hostel where guests can make use of their two telescopes and sets of binoculars for watching the night sky. To book, click here. While further north, The Royal Valentia Hotel offer Dark Sky packages which including accommodation and a guided astronomy tour led by local Steve Lynott who runs Kerry Dark Sky Tourism. Find out more here.

The Moorings in Portmagee offer Dark Sky packages with B&B and a night sky tour. More here.

The International Space Station over Kerry's Dark Sky Reserve

Dark Sky Reserve

Kerry’s Dark Sky Reserve is home to as few as 4,000 residents, and incorporates approximately 700 square kilometres of territory along the Wild Atlantic Way. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean so it means there is very little in the way of light pollution.

Once upon a time, we were all aware of a celestial symphony above our heads at night but as the modern age progressed and our cities and towns began to emit more light, the night sky drifted further and further away from us. While our ancestors spent their nights looking up to reference time, seek out weather patterns, to search for meaning and inspiration, we began more and more to look down.

The reserve runs from Kells Bay through to Caherdaniel, taking in the towns of Kells, Cahersiveen, Valentia Island, Portmagee, The Glen, Ballinskelligs, Dromid and Waterville along the way.

Once your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, you can see the wisping Milky Way , the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters and nebulas, just some of the astronomical features visible unaided in this part of Ireland. On a moonless night, you can even spot the International Space Station in orbit.

“It’s special here. Every time you turn a corner you’re going to see something historical or of outstanding natural beauty. When the sun goes down, you look up and you get a whole new perspective on things."

Steve Lynott, Kerry Dark Skies Tourism

The Milky Way over St. Finian's Bay , Ballinskelligs credit: Dave Connolly

The edge of the world

Here, on the edge of the known world, our ancestors spent their time gazing upwards as is in evidence by the many standing stone and stone circles that can be found all over the region.

The standing stones, such as those at Cill Rialaig, overlooking the Skelligs are Megalithic standing stones dating back possibly to Neolithic times. They have a clear lunar alignment and could have been used as an astral calendar or perhaps for some form of worship. They jut out of the boggy land and stand tall against the sky they offer clear evidence that man’s relationship with the heavens was very strong here for thousands of years. It’s only recently that we’ve lost sight of the stars.

Eightercua in Waterville is another fine example of standing stones with lunar alignment that was also a burial tomb. This part of the Wild Atlantic Way is simply full of these stones and tombs that offer us a glimpse into the minds of the first inhabitants on these islands and how here on the Iveragh Peninsula, they found a wonder and spiritual connection with the heavenly night sky.

The Messier Marathon

In the 1700s, Frenchman Charles Messier, while searching for comets, catalogued 110 objects in the night sky. Today, astronomers attempt to locate all of these objects in just one night. It’s called a Messier Marathon and next year’s event will be held on the 9th, 10th of March.

The Messier Marathon is attended by some leading lights of the astronomy with visitors from all over the world along with a mix of seasoned experts and absolute novices. As well as star-spotting, visitors are treated to talks from academics and experts about Messier and discoveries in the world of astronomy.

Visitors who’ve never even looked through a telescope rub shoulders with some of the wold’s most eminent authorities on the subject. Kerry is now an important destination on the list for those chasing stars and planets.

The mobile observatory

The Messier Marathon is just one initiative in the Dark Sky Reserve. Not only the ability to attract people from all over the world to look upwards but also the ability to bring all kinds of different people together.

John Griffin of Kerry County Council started thinking about how to make the most of this area’s global status as a Dark Sky Reserve. He is now in the early stages of proposing the development of a mobile observatory that can move around the reserve, offering locals and visitors alike an opportunity to see the best heavenly views. It has the potential to create a real ‘star party’ wherever it sets down.

While the finished mobile observatory might be light-years away, John’s enthusiasm typifies the local people of this area, so fiercely proud and passionate about their home place.

The Wild Atlantic Way truly offers a different pace of life, the landscape, the ever-changing weather, the people, with their open-heartedness and sense of humour… it allows us to slow down, to breathe and enjoy life at the pace it should be lived.

All of this, and then you look up… The infinite, iridescent night sky, aswirl with galaxies, planets and stars piercing the sky from the deepest recess of space. As the sun sets on your trip you’ll find yourself feeling like those very first astronomers looking skywards. The Wild Atlantic Way – a place of infinite possibilities.

Start planning your trip to see the dark skies on the Wild Atlantic Way here.

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