An area of South-west Kerry is the first place in the northern hemisphere to receive dark sky designation, which requires energy-efficient public lights. The lights are directed downwards rather than up in the air to minimise light pollution.
Kerry County Council, which supported a two-year campaign for the designation, is committed to dark sky-compliant lighting which will involve replacing the existing system with a more energy-efficient and money-saving lights.
The international Dark Skies Association requested last year that the skies of the Iveragh Peninsula, an area of 700sq km, be designated a dark sky reserve.
Sandwiched between mountains and sea, the area forms part of the Ring of Kerry and includes Kells, Caherciveen, Portmagee, and Valentia Island.
The skies over Iveragh are remarkably free of glare from artificial light. The aim is to attract “astro-tourists” who like to watch the sky at night. There are almost 13,000 public lights in Kerry and a start has been made in replacing them.
Lighting accounts for 10% of the council’s roads budget and roads director Charlie O’Sullivan told an operations committee meeting that replacing all the lights was a “slow train”.
However, the capital cost of installing low-energy public lights has become more affordable and the primary benefit is that such lights needed minimal maintenance as the bulbs have a much longer lifespan, leading to long-term savings, he pointed out.
It costs just under €1,500 to provide a conventional light, with annual maintenance costs of €154. A low-energy light can be provided for €2,000, with annual maintenance costs of €22.
A lack of funding is a key issue , however, and only 146 low-energy lights have been installed in Kerry, to date.
Independent councillor Dan McCarthy, claiming many rural areas were being “left in the dark”, called on the council to again look at the possibility of moving public lights from areas where they were not needed to locations which required them.