Deep dark Kerry looking to the skies

Never shy about promoting its natural beauty and light, Kerry has now begun to work on its dark side.

Deep dark Kerry looking to the skies

Daytime visitors to landmarks such as the Lakes of Killarney and the Skellig Rock will be asked to join stargazers and astro-tourists whose eyes will be on the night skies.

The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) has confirmed an area of South-West Kerry is to be Ireland’s first international Dark Sky Place, and the first in the northern hemisphere.

One of the reasons is that the 700sq km area, with Caherciveen as its main population centre, is wedged between high mountains and the Atlantic, which provide natural protection from light pollution.

Pollution caused by excess public lighting blots out night-time views of skies in many other areas, especially large urban centres.

According to a thrilled Julie Ormonde, chairwoman of the Kerry Dark Sky Group, an area needs 85% compliance with night light standards to qualify for the coveted award. However, there is 92% compliance in South-West Kerry, which also becomes a gold-tier designated reserve.

“People can see more stars and constellations from here than most other places and we now have equal status with places in the African deserts and New Zealand,’’ she said.

“This is an amazing opportunity for Kerry and Ireland and the tourism bodies are also very excited about its possibilities.’’

The reserve sits on the Iveragh Peninsula, home to nearly 4,000 people, and ranges from Kells to Caherdaniel, along the Ring of Kerry tourist route.

The designation is the result of a sustained two-year campaign by the Kerry Dark Sky Group whose efforts have also resulted in laws requiring responsible outdoor lighting practices to mitigate light pollution.

“The granting of this award will provide new opportunities to enjoy and experience the beauty of South-West Kerry’s night sky,” said Ms Ormonde, project manager of the reserve.

“It will encourage other areas in Kerry, and in Ireland as a whole, to take positive action to protect their own dark sky areas.”

Kerry county manager Tom Curran said the designation puts Kerry at the forefront of astro-tourism.

“Kerry County Council is committed to replacing all public street lighting with efficient, dark-sky friendly light fixtures progressively throughout the county over the coming years, beginning in 2014.”

The reserve will become a feature of the Wild Atlantic Way and may also include observatories to allow people view the night skies.

Fiona Monaghan, of the Wild Atlantic Way Programme, said the exceptional skyscapes of south Kerry would “create magical moments to treasure and experience along the Way.”

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