Serious stargazers should head to Mayo this autumn to celebrate the wonders of the night in this stellar Dark Sky Festival.
The Mayo Dark Sky Festival (4 to 6 November) is a celebration of all things astral and a great reason to visit one of the world’s top stargazing locations.
Mayo Dark Sky Park stretches between Nephin Mountain Range and the Atlantic Coast covering an area of 150km2. It was awarded a Gold Tier standard by the International Dark Sky Association, making it one of the best places to see stars, meteors and even the aurora, all with the naked eye.
The park encompasses Ballycroy National Park and the Wild Nephin National Park and has three main viewing points.
Ballycroy Visitor Centre has an interpretive exhibition and from it you can follow a 2km looped walk to the elevated plateau of Cleary’s Hill. Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail follows a boardwalk that affords gorgeous views in the daytime and wonderful stargazing opportunities at night.
The third viewing point is Brogan Carroll Bothy, located at the edge of Wild Nephin National Park. This is the darkest site in the Mayo Dark Sky Park.
On a clear night some 4,500 stars are visible in the pristine skies above the park.
The Mayo Dark Sky Festival will have a packed programme of talks by experts including Guy Consolmagno, Director at the Vatican Observatory and Professor Mark McCaughrean, Senior Science Advisor at ESA, who will give an update on the James Webb Space Telescope.
Dr Sera Markoff of the University of Amsterdam, whose team was responsible for capturing the iconic first image of a black hole back in 2019, and renowned Irish botanist and broadcaster Dr Éanna ní Lamhna are also among the line-up.
There will also be walks, workshops, musical performances and a stunning exhibition of night-time photography.
Another way to enjoy a visit to Mayo Dark Sky Park is on a Stargazing Safari with adventure tour company Terra Firma.
Their guided tour combines a laser pointer tour of the stars and constellations with an introduction to the local nocturnal wildlife. Involving short walks with transportation between viewing sites, the tour lasts three hours and finishes with a visit to a traditional seanchaí (storyteller) who will spin some celestial tales.
The island of Ireland can also boast two other dark sky havens.
Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve covers 700km2 of the Iveragh Peninsula on the Wild Atlantic Way and also holds Gold Tier status.
And in Northern Ireland, OM Dark Sky Park & Observatory in County Tyrone is the latest addition to the island’s stargazing credentials and a fascinating place where astronomy meets archaeology.