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Dark Skies festival to brighten up winter evenings

News

Anton McNulty

The hugely successful Mayo Dark Sky Festival returns for the fourth year with the towns and villages bordering Ireland’s only Dark Sky Park teaming up once again for what promises to be an unforgettable three days.
The festival which takes place from November 1 to 3, offers talks on physics, culture and the environment, family friendly science workshops, as well as walks, stargazing sessions – and a little magic.
“It’s certainly our most ambitious festival to date,” according to the team behind this popular event, led by Georgia MacMillan and Fiona Hopkins.  
“We are delighted to be welcoming Dr Robert Thirsk from Canada to the festival this year,” Fiona says. “Bob has flown on two space missions as a member of the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut corps. He first flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1996, and his second flight in 2009 was a six-month expedition aboard the International Space Station. As a medical doctor he also has a unique insight into the effects of space travel on the human body.”  
As well as Robert Thirsk, festival speakers will include Professor Mark McCaughrean, the Senior Advisor for Science and Exploration at the European Space Agency, Ireland’s own astronaut candidates Norah Patten and Niamh Shaw, and founder of Northumberland’s Kielder Observatory Gary Fildes.
But it’s not all serious science and for the first time, the festival will include a virtual reality black hole experience which visitors can enjoy during breaks from the more formal talks.  

Robotic workshops
Children will really enjoy the Robotics Workshop on Saturday afternoon, and the whole family is invited to join Declan Holmes of Science Ireland on Sunday for his brand new ‘Be a Planet Champion’ Climate Change workshop. Organisers are also bringing back festival favourites such as a mobile planetarium and a practical workshop on astrophotography with Brian Wilson.
For culture vultures, there will be a performance by vocal ensemble Systir. The group has its origins in the legendary Anúna, and they will be giving one of their first performances at the opening night of the festival.
Georgia MacMillan explained the reasons behind the annual festival. “Our dark skies here in Mayo are a wonderful natural amenity and attract visitors from all over the world. Clear unpolluted skies are now, sadly, a rarity - the Milky Way is so obscured by the effects of modern lighting that it is no longer visible to over 80 percent of people worldwide. What we take for granted is seen as something very special by these visitors, as they have told us at previous festivals. And of course these skies are best seen in the winter months, so our festival gives people a very good reason to visit Mayo out of season.”

Torchlit walk
The three-day festival will kick off on Friday evening with a performance by Anúna: Systir in St Patrick’s Church Newport, followed by a guided torchlit walk to the 15th century Burrishoole Abbey, where Newport Astronomy Club will, weather permitting, host an evening of stargazing.  
While stargazing will keep you enthralled in the evenings, there is plenty to do during the day, with events taking place in Newport, Mulranny and Ballycroy, the picturesque villages bordering the Dark Sky Park. Mayo’s rugged Atlantic seaboard offers a dramatic backdrop to a relaxed and fun-filled festival.

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Full programme of events, ticket sales and everything needed to plan your trip are on the festival website at www.mayodarkskyfestival.ie.

MPU Mayo