Astronomical success for Kerry stargazers

The night sky over the Skelligs. Pic: Peter Cox

An area in south west Kerry is to be recognised as having some of the best skies in the world in which to star gaze, following a local campaign.

A 700 sq km section of the Iveragh Peninsula will be awarded the first Dark Sky Reserve designation in the Northern Hemisphere – and will receive top marks in the "Gold Tier" designation.

The International Dark Sky Association is an advocacy group for the protection of night skies, and founded its Dark Sky Reserve programme in 2001.

It is expected Kerry's award will lead to an increase in astro-tourism.

St Finian's Bay, Ballinskelligs. Pic: Steve Owens

The award follows a three-year campaign by the Kerry Dark Sky Group. John Griffin from Kerry County Council said lights in the whole county are to be retro-fitted, as they were in the south west:

"The council were able to give us specialist advice, put a program in place, and give a commitment that we'll be renewing all our public lighting in the entire county progressively from 2014 with dark sky-compliant lighting."

Dark sky-compliant lighting focuses the light down on to the ground – where it is needed – and avoids emitting light into the sky.

Light pollution of that kind makes it much more difficult to see stars, and is most often visible as the faint orange glow in the sky over cities.

A spokesperson for Fáilte Ireland said the new status was particularly welcome as Irish tourism seeks to establish the Wild Atlantic Way route.

“Achieving dark sky status will allow visitors to view some the exceptional sky-scapes of South Kerry, which will create magical moments to treasure and experience along the Wild Atlantic Way,” they said.

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