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OUTDOORS Starry, starry night

Outdoor Living

MAGICAL The night sky at Rockfleet Castle, near Newport. Pic: Steven Hanley

Ciara Moynihan


Students on the GMIT Mayo Outdoor Education programme are planning to celebrate darkness on Thursday, December 10, at Lough Lannagh, Castlebar. Don’t worry, there will be no chanting, and no goats will be harmed. It’s not that kind of darkness.
Here in Mayo, we are lucky enough to have some of the most beautiful night skies in Europe, thanks to the comparative lack of light pollution. By organising a ‘night appreciation’ evening, the students are contributing the Mayo Dark Skies Project, which was set up as a community group to prepare an application for International Dark-Sky recognition for the Ballycroy and Wild Nephin wilderness.
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.
In January 2014, the International Dark Sky Association named Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula  the first International Dark Sky Place in Ireland. The Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve  also became the first Gold Tier-designated Reserve in the Northern Hemisphere – an achievement that has been trumpeted as a stellar string in the county’s Wild Atlantic Way bow, placing the county at the forefront of potentially lucrative ‘astro-tourism’ (yes, that’s a thing). Wouldn’t it be great if Mayo could follow suit?
Research for the Mayo Dark Skies Project began at GMIT Mayo through the Outdoor Education degree programme, with the support of GMIT Mayo’s’ Green Campus group and staff. The Lough Lannagh event will include a short demonstration of student works from the Creative Arts module, designed to appreciate the beauty of natural night time, followed by a night paddle in kayaks around Lough Lannagh and beyond by students and local kayak/canoe clubs.
The idea is to create awareness of, and take time to appreciate, the value of natural night skies in the west, and to allow for some star gazing from kayaks in the middle of the lake. The evening will also highlight how outdoor activities can still continue to be enjoyed throughout the darker winter evenings.  
GMIT is inviting everyone in the community to join in by taking part in a short candle/lantern-lit gathering at the lake whilst the kayakers are on the water. The evening will culminate with refreshments at the Greenway Café in Lough Lannagh village.
“The evening is designed to appreciate the value of our natural night skies, and the low lighting around the lake will visually enhance the artistic creation and maximize the effect of the lantern lights,” explains GMIT Outdoor Education Programme lecturer Orla Prendergast. “The kayakers will venture into an area completely free of urban light when they paddle further down the lake.”
Georgia MacMillan, Mayo Dark Skies Project Manager, is passionate about our night sky in Mayo, which she calls a natural asset worth preserving. “We have timed the event to coincide with the darkest phase of the lunar cycle, and activities on the lake will be themed to complement the night sky,” she says. “In doing this we hope to raise awareness of the rapid expansion of artificial lighting around the country and the consequences this has on our wildlife, eco-systems, sleep patterns and also the financial impact.”
The night-appreciation event gets underway at 6.30pm on Thursday, December 10, with the Dark Sky/Creative Art Piece demonstrated by GMIT students. At 6.45pm, the Dark Sky lantern-lit paddle will take place on Lough Lannagh, with paddlers expected to return by 7.30pm. The evening will end with refreshments in the nearby Lough Lannagh Café.

For more information on the Lough Lannagh event, contact Orla Prendergast at orla.prendergast@gmit.ie or Georgia MacMillan, Mayo Dark Skies Project, at   georgia@internationalmagic.com.

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