This week’s blog post comes courtesy of Georgia MacMillan. Georgia is Mayo Dark Sky Park Development Officer; an employment-based PhD scholarship funded by the Irish Research Council and National Parks & Wildlife Service.
A journey into the Dark Sky Tourism phenomenon
Dark Sky Tourism is emerging as a new travel trend for 2024, and County Mayo is positioned as one of the best places to experience the increasingly rare beauty of a naturally dark sky. International travel writer Megan Eaves, who visited the county for its after dark offerings last November, placed Mayo alongside Chile and New Zealand as a leading destination to experience the wonder of the night sky. (Read more: ‘Emerging travel trends from Citizen Femme‘).
We all know Mayo is a fantastic place, but why it is so special after dark? In the heart of the county lies Wild Nephin National Park; covering a vast 15,000 hectares of blanket bog and forestry under habitat restoration. As the sun sets on the National Park, the skies above transform this magical place into Mayo Dark Sky Park; Ireland’s first gold tier International Dark-sky Park. This celestial sanctuary, where half the park is after dark, promises an awe-inspiring experience for both stargazers and nature enthusiasts.
Weekly dark sky walks
Every Friday night (from 12th January 2024) guided dark sky walks take place in Mayo Dark Sky Park providing visitors with an opportunity to enjoy a laser tour of the starry wonders above (weather permitting), and a gentle digital detox that is only possible under a naturally dark sky. (Please note: there are weekly opportunities to join this event but stargazing is always subject to weather/cloud conditions!)
Two major dark sky events
During the year County Mayo also hosts two major dark sky events. International Dark Sky Week is held in Spring and as a road show across the county, with new venues and hosts expanding the dark sky interest base every year. Then in Autumn, our flagship event, Mayo Dark Sky Festival, takes place over three days in Newport, Mulranny and Ballycroy. This community led festival now attracts an international audience with a superbly curated programme of family friendly events and multiple themes of astronomy, culture and nature.
County Mayo has wholeheartedly embraced its role as a premier destination for dark sky enthusiasts and as interest has grown, Mayo Dark Sky Park has developed training courses both for local businesses and communities alike. Last Spring a guest speaker from Northumberland Dark Sky Park delivered Mayo Dark Sky Champion training to over 80 participants from the hospitality trade, explaining how dark sky tourism had so positively impacted the Northumberland region. In September a further 86 people took part in “Carpe Noctem” – the Mayo Dark Sky Ambassador training course designed to provide community and conservation groups with tools to engage stakeholders on reducing light pollution and restoring our nightscapes. These fully booked events, along with new initiatives from Erris at Night and Keenagh Community Group indicate Mayo’s growing interest in promoting dark sky offerings.
Already the 2024 calendar looks to be just as busy as 2023, with programming under way for the following key dates, so make a note in your diaries.
- 9th -16th March 2024: Irish Astronomy Week
- 2nd – 8th April 2024: International Dark Sky Week
- 17th – 24th August 2024: Heritage Week
- 1st – 3rd November 2024: Mayo Dark Sky Festival
In the meantime, I hope you will join me on one of the weekly dark sky walks which take every Friday night in Mayo Dark Sky Park, until the clocks spring forward. You can find out more about dark sky tourism and why County Mayo is such a special place to experience a natural night sky in this recently published chapter “Tread softly in the Dark”; part of a new open source e-book ‘Dark Skies: places practices ad communities’ edited by Nick Dunn and Tim Edensor.
Mayo Dark Sky Park is completely free to access anytime, day or night, and has three signature viewing sites to enjoy the stars.
For more information check: www.mayodarkskypark.ie
Mayo North Tourism recommendation
Thank you to Georgia for this wonderful blog post!
For an unforgettable stargazing experience, we would highly recommend that you embark on an adventure with Terra Firma Ireland – a proud member of Mayo North Tourism. Dive into the cosmos with their specialised small group stargazing excursions, unravelling the enigmatic tapestry of the night sky as you explore the captivating landscapes of the West of Ireland. Let Terra Firma Ireland be your guide to a celestial journey that ignites your sense of wonder and awe. Visit www.terrafirmaireland.com.