Home Ireland News Pól Ó Conghaile: Can ‘astrotourism’ be a new buzzword for Ireland?

Pól Ó Conghaile: Can ‘astrotourism’ be a new buzzword for Ireland?


Around the Skellig Ring, at the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula, you'll find a 700sq km area that is listed as one of just a dozen Dark Sky Reserves on Planet Earth.

The International Dark-Sky Association (dark-sky.org) is a US non-profit working against light pollution, and it certifies Dark Sky parks, sanctuaries and reserves all over the world (reserves like Kerry's consist of dark 'core' zones surrounded by populated areas that agree to limit light pollution).

Ballycroy National Park and Wild Nephin in Mayo (below), another spectacularly remote area of Ireland, contains a smaller Dark Sky park.

Why celebrate darkness?

Well, beyond the obvious environmental benefits to limiting sprawl and light pollution, travel is seeing a growing trend towards 'astrotourism'.

Star trails above the boardwalk at Ballycroy National Park, Co Mayo

In our busy lives, the notion of escaping bright lights, 24/7 connectivity and urban rat runs for pristine skies has deep appeal. A few generations ago, most humans could look up and see the Milky Way. Now, the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute (ISTIL) says artificial lighting obscures the night sky for 99pc of Europeans.

Getting 'off-grid' is a tonic.

This is more than a digital detox, however. People travel for eclipses, the northern lights, or to visit observatories like those at Hawaii's Mauna Kea or Teide in Tenerife. In Utah, the new Compass Rose Lodge has its own observatory with retractable roof.

Even cruise ships, which regularly sail under clear skies, are getting in on the act. The aptly named Viking Orion launched last year, for example, with a planetarium and a resident astronomer offering lectures and guided stargazing sessions.

In Ireland, where growing visitor numbers are seeing an increasing push to develop tourism in regional areas and the off-season, 'astrotourism' has tantalising possibilities.

Dark Sky Reserve, Star Wars, Glanleam Beach, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry.jpg
Glanleam beach, in Kerry's Dark Sky Reserve. Photo: Tourism Ireland / Tom Archer

In Mayo, there's talk of an observatory for Wild Nephin, and local tour operator Terra Firma offers 'after dark&Read More – Source