Pandemic passions: Stargazing, horticulture, and birdwatching attract new fans 

The huge spike in interest in the universe has prompted Astronomy Ireland to offer online classes for the first time
Pandemic passions: Stargazing, horticulture, and birdwatching attract new fans 

Astronomy Ireland said its membership has almost doubled in recent months due to what it called a 'huge surge of interest in nature and space'. Picture: Gregory Rec/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The seemingly neverending Covid-19 pandemic has played havoc with most of our lives, but it seems Irish people have rediscovered long-dormant passions and hobbies, as well as trying new ones, over the past year.

Stargazing, horticulture, and birdwatching are just some of the new pastimes that people are enjoying in never-before-seen numbers, according to aficionados in various niche fields.

Birdwatch Ireland's survey enlisted members of the public to count the number of birds in their gardens from the beginning of December right through January. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Birdwatch Ireland's survey enlisted members of the public to count the number of birds in their gardens from the beginning of December right through January. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Astronomy Ireland said its membership has almost doubled in recent months due to what it called a "huge surge of interest in nature and space".

The organisation said the spike in interest was unprecedented, "never seen in the society's 30-year history as people turn back to their hobbies for something to do during lockdown".

This interest in the wonders of the universe has led Astronomy Ireland to offer online classes for the first time, it said.

The organisation will run evening classes for beginners, "telling families and individuals what to see in the skies over Ireland, and explaining everything in the universe, from the Big Bang that created us all, to exotic objects like black holes that will one day gobble up the entire universe", it added.

Editor of Astronomy Ireland, David Moore, said: "People will be amazed at what they learn in these classes, which we have tailored for the general public.

"The basic idea is that we take people who know very little about our universe and, over eight Wednesday nights, tell them about every aspect of this vast subject. 

"At the end of the course, participants will have a very good working knowledge of the universe and where we are in understanding our cosmos."

The classes will begin this Wednesday, January 27, and run for eight consecutive weeks for two hours starting at 7.30pm via Zoom, with bookings at www.astronomy.ie to be made in advance.

"From the sun and the stars to deep sky objects, from the Big Bang to exoplanets and the search for life beyond Earth, participants will learn about a wide range of fascinating topics in astronomy," Astronomy Ireland said. 

The course also includes a practical session, where participants will learn how to set up and use a telescope themselves, while no knowledge of astronomy, science or maths is needed for the classes.

Meanwhile, the Irish Garden Bird Survey has seen huge enthusiasm from nature lovers.

The brainchild of Ireland's biggest independent conservation organisation, Birdwatch Ireland, the survey enlisted members of the public to count the number of birds in their gardens from the beginning of December right through January.

It is the culmination of a year when interest in birdwatching exploded in Ireland, according to the organisation. By the start of April, just weeks into the pandemic, website traffic was up over 500% on normal figures.

Established in 1968, Birdwatch Ireland has about 15,000 members and 30 branches countrywide.

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