Friday, April 22, 2022

International Dark Sky Week gets underway today, running from April 22-30. It is a global affair, organised annually by the International Dark Sky Association.

On this global stage, Ireland is playing a leading role, particularly in Co Mayo, home of Mayo Dark Sky Park.

L-R: Padraig Walsh, acting director of services, Mayo County Council; Fionnán Nestor, Failté Ireland; Dr Brian Espey, Trinity College Dublin; Margaret Flaherty, National Parks & Wildlife Service; Cllr Michael Smyth, Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council; Laura Dixon, Mayo County Council climate action officer; Cllr Blackie Gavin, chair of the Climate, Environment and Emergency Services SPC; and Georgia MacMillan, Mayo Dark Sky Park Development Officer at the launch of International Dark Skies Week in Castlebar.

Mayo Dark Sky Park consists of 15,000 hectares of natural wilderness in the wild Nephin mountains, and it is a very special and unique place, much loved by the close-knit rural communities surrounding it. Those communities have planned a virtual roadshow of the county, taking in the dark sky communities of Newport, Mulranny and Ballycroy, and welcoming Clare Island, Achill Island and Inishturk as a dark sky event hosts for the first time.

“We are so lucky here in Mayo as we have some of the darkest skies in Europe, a resource that the world is starting to appreciate more and more as excessive levels of artificial light continue to obliterate our view of the night sky,” said Georgia MacMillan, Mayo Dark Park development officer.

“We are only now beginning to appreciate just how important natural skies are for our planet. Many of us think of science and stargazing when we think of the night sky, but it is also vitally important for biodiversity, human health and culture.”

Georgia explains how the roadshow will unfold: “Each evening at 8 p.m. a different community will host an event celebrating one of the facets of our dark sky story.

“We start on Friday, April 22, in Ballycroy Visitor Centre, Wild Nephin National Park (Mayo Dark Sky Park) with a talk by Brendan Owens, Astronomer Emeritus for Royal Observatory Greenwich, who will give us a Starry Sky Tour over three consecutive evenings, bringing his talk to Inishturk on April 23 and Erris Coast, Geesala, on April 24.

‘On Monday, April 25, we move to our first urban event at Lough Lannagh in Castlebar for Urban Dark Skies & Biodiversity. The roadshow then moves to Achill Island on Tuesday for Soilse Spéire Acla (Lights of an Achill Sky), organised by VTOS Achill tourism students, where we will enjoy a walk along the Deserted Village whilst learning the values of a natural night sky.

“We continue a walking theme in the beautiful grounds of Westport House Estate on Wednesday (27th) with a dusk watch and nature walk with guides from Wild Nephin National Park as darkness draws in.”

The programme returns to the stars on Thursday at Mulranny Arts Centre with a talk by Newport Astronomy Club’s Derek Dempsey for beginners, An Introduction to Astronomy, it’s an island-hop again on Friday (29th) as the roadshow goes to Clare Island for a sunset walk, yoga and storytelling evening.

International Dark Sky Week returns to Newport, gateway to the Mayo Dark Sky Park, for the final event which moves the roadshow into space for a Tour of our Solar System by Derek Dempsey.

Whether you are an avid amateur stargazer, a budding naturalist or just curious about our natural world, there is something for everyone at Mayo’s roadshow celebrating International Dark Sky Week 2022.

Tickets are free but booking is essential and available on https://www.eventbrite.ie/o/friends-of-mayo-dark-skies-10915187184.

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