Dark sky at night is Mayo’s delight

Ballycroy National Park & Wild Nephin Wilderness named Ireland’s first International Dark Sky Park

Mayo has been awarded a glittering new string to its tourism bow – the stars above. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has granted Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park status to Ballycroy National Park & Wild Nephin Wilderness, to be jointly recognised as Mayo International Dark Sky Park, it was announced today (Thursday).
A Gold-Tier classification is an honour reserved for the most exceptional of dark skies and breathtaking nightscapes. This recognition completes the ‘360 degree experience’ that the north Mayo national park has to offer, boasting pristine beauty underfoot, all around and up above.
Ballycroy is the first national park in the country to be named an International Dark Sky Park, building on the success of Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula, which the Arizona-based IDA named Ireland’s first International Dark Sky Reserve in 2014. The major difference lies in accessibility: the Iveragh Peninsula reserve encompasses privately owned land, whereas the Ballycroy National Park & Wild Nephin Wilderness is State-owned, offering open public access for everyone to enjoy.
“Today’s announcement is a wonderful outcome for both dark skies and economic development in rural Ireland,” IDA Executive Director J Scott Feierabend said. “County Mayo joins Kerry as a haven of natural darkness for both wildlife and human visitors alike.”
The vast Ballycroy National Park and the adjoining Wild Nephin Wilderness expands over roughly 15,000 hectares of Atlantic blanket bog, mountainous terrain and forest. Viewing sites for visiting astronomers and stargazers 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.
To get Dark-Sky recognition, an area not only needs to prove that it is sufficiently dark from an astronomy point of view, it must also engage with the wider community in nearby urban spaces through education and outreach events to raise awareness of light pollution and energy waste, and their impact on environmental issues.
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 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.
“We are thrilled with the award. The project has been embraced by so many parties and is the first collaboration of its kind between a National Park, Coillte and surrounding communities,” project manager Georgia MacMillan explained. “Our nightscapes are inspirational and worth protecting for future generations.  It’s hoped that achieving this award will not only showcase the area for the growing market of astro-tourism, but also raise awareness of the impact of light pollution on our environment and biodiversity.”
Mayo County Council has committed to dark-sky friendly lighting in the area, and is working with the Friends of Mayo Dark-Skies group to further reduce light pollution where possible.
The Mayo International Dark Sky Park already has some exciting events planned for the coming months, including The Mayo Dark-Sky Festival, slated to be held from October 28 to 30.
In a serendipitous coincidence, today’s announcement came during a Mayo Dark Skies open day for business and tourism providers. Ballycroy Visitor Centre hosted a range of expert speakers, who spoke to those gathered about the benefits and opportunities that Dark Sky recognition would bring. It seems the Dark Sky Park award was written in the stars.


Source: Mayo News (Ciara Moynihan)