Jolyon Attwooll, The Daily Telegraph, January 30, 2014
The spectacular night skies above County Kerry in Ireland have received official recognition from the International Dark-Sky Association.
The U.S.-based organisation designated the area as an International Dark Sky Reserve, the first in Ireland and one of only seven in the world.
The new Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve was also awarded “gold tier” status, the first time it has been awarded in the northern hemisphere. It is designated only for particularly clear and bright night skies, with easily visible phenomena such as the aurora, the Milky Way and meteors.
The only other two places in the world with the same status are NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia and Aoraki Mackenzie in New Zealand.
The new reserve is on the Iveragh Peninsula, a remote part of Ireland of around 270 square miles, with approximately 4,000 residents. In its announcement, the International Dark Sky Association stressed the historical importance of the area’s skies.
“The night sky has captivated the people of Ireland for millennia," it sad. “Nearly 6,000 years ago, the Neolithic inhabitants of the Iveragh Peninsula built stone monuments incorporating alignments to track cycles of the sun, moon and stars.”
Those behind the campaign hope that the success of their application will encourage more stargazers to the region.
Julie Ormonde orchestrated the 148-page application on behalf of the Kerry Dark Sky Group.
Inspired by the success of Galloway Forest Park – which was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2009 – she believed Kerry had the same potential.
She said: “One and a half million tourists passed through the ring of Kerry last year – 'passing through' being the key phrase. What they don’t realise is they miss half the attraction. Come the night-time and there’s a whole different side that comes out.
“We hope this will encourage people to spend at least one night in the area.”
As well as protecting the area from light pollution, the area’s Reserve status may attract funding for observatories and eventually a planetarium, Ms Ormonde added.
There are two British International Dark Sky Reserves: the Brecon Beacon National Park and Exmoor National Park, which both have silver tier status.
What is a Dark Sky Reserve?
This is often a combination of public and private land with “exceptional or distinguished” quality of starry skies. It is formed through a partnership of land owners and administrators who commit to protecting the visibility of the night skies with regulation, formal agreement and long-term planning. It consists of a “core area” and a peripheral area that also supports the protection of the dark sky.
Where are they?
There are currently seven, including the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, Mont Mégantic (Quebec, Canada), Exmoor National Park (UK), Aoraki Mackenzie (New Zealand), Brecon Beacon (Wales), Pic du Midi (France).
What is the difference between them and Dark Sky Parks?
The Dark Sky Parks are just public areas. There are 13 in total, including two in Britain: Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water Forest Park, and Galloway Forest Park.
More information: www.darksky.org/night-sky-conservation/dark-sky-parks