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    The Dramatic Skies of Ireland

    By Dawn Rainbolt, Marketing Executive
    More by Dawn

    Ireland is known for many things – whiskey, pubs, music, emerald-tinted hills, leprechauns and fairies, wild coastlines. The sky isn’t perhaps the first thing you think of, other than the eternal question… will it rain today? Generally closely followed by, When will it stop raining? 

    But when Ireland isn’t raining and the skies aren’t grey and cloudy, our wee little Emerald Isle generally has some fantastic skies.

    Sunrise & Sunset

     

    Ireland is located between the 52nd and 55th latitudes. This higher latitude means that we are positioned closer to the sun, providing us with some truly amazing sunrises and sunsets. 

    Summer days are wonderfully long, and the 10 pm sunsets are spectacular, filling the sky with incredible golden colours. In the winter, the shorter days mean you get to see the sunrise without having to wake up super early – expect them around 7h30 to as late as 9 am. Winter sunrises are often beautiful, soft pinks and blues and seem more dramatic than in other places. 

    For the same reason, the moonscapes in Ireland are also incredible – the closer tilt means that the moon in Ireland often appears larger and more dramatic, like something out of a cartoon or off a postcard!

    Indeed yes – Ireland is known for its rainbows. And this isn’t just a stereotype, it’s the truth. We get an awful lot of rainbows here, both single rainbows and double rainbows. Ireland gets plenty of rain – combine this with low barometric pressure and voila, you get a lot of rainbows. 

    Rainbows are visible when we have the sun before us and rain just behind. Rainbows can occur at any time of day. While the best season to see rainbows is in spring and fall as these seasons tend to have higher rainfall, rainbows can occur at any time of the year, provided that the conditions are right.

    Chances are high that you’ll stumble across at least one rainbow while you’re in Ireland. 

    Ireland is a sparsely populated little island at the edge of Europe, carefully set a bit away from mainland Europe. Because of this, we have very little light pollution and plenty of open spaces  – both of which make for ideal Dark Skies and stargazing. 

    Ireland has two officially-recognised “Dark Sky” territories – one in County Mayo around Ballycroy National Park, and the other in County Kerry. There are many others on their way to accreditation – from the archeologically-rich Lough Gur in County Limerick over to east coast Hook Head all the way up to the Sperrins Mountains in Northern Ireland.

    Even outside of these “official” Dark Sky parks, Irish night skies are amazing. Once you head out of the cities – and we don’t have many of them anyway – to the rural and far-flung corners of the nation, wait for a clear night and look up, you won’t be disappointed. Lack of light pollution here means you’ll catch a glimpse of more stars than you would in your cities back home. 

    Learn more about Dark Skies and stargazing in Ireland in this article by our wilderness guide Georgia, who is also a co-founder of Mayo Dark Skies. 

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    The Northern Lights

    The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are a stunning and colourful phenomenon visible in the night skies within or close to the Arctic Circle. While Ireland is – thankfully! – not in the Arctic Circle, our northern altitude does mean that we occasionally get the Northern Lights here, though with far less frequency than in Alaska, Russia or Iceland. 

    The Northern Lights present as rays and arcs of brilliant colours splayed across the sky, formed when electrically-charged light particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

    It’s in the name – to see the Northern Lights, you have to head north. County Donegal is the best place to see it. Rural, out of the way, and northern, head to Donegal places like Malin Head (Ireland’s most northerly point), the Slieve Leagues Cliffs, Glencolmncille or the Inishowen Peninsula, to name a few. 

    The Northern Lights are predominantly a winter phenomenon, when the nights are long in Ireland. Starting in the end of October through roughly mid-February is the ideal time of year to experience the Northern Lights in Ireland. 

    The Solstices & Neolithic Alignments

    Marvel at the summer solstice sunset from the amazing Carrowkeel tombs complex in County Sligo.

    One of the most magical times of the year is the Solstice. It happens twice a year – roughly June 21st for the longest day of the year (the Summer Solstice) and December 21st (the Winter Solstice), on the shortest day of the year. 

    But what makes this sky phenomenon so cool is the fact that the ancient peoples of Ireland attached great importance to the Solstices. During Neolithic times, many of the sacred structures they built were aligned with a Solstice, and can still be visited today to experience this phenomenon. 

    There are four options: monuments can be aligned to Summer or Winter Solstice and to the sunrise or the sunset. (If you can’t make a solstice, you might get a similar experience with certain monuments during the Spring or Autumn Equinox. Do be sure to check which one the monument you want to visit is aligned with before you go!

    Some famous monuments aligned with a Solstice event include Newgrange, Carrowkeel, Lough Gur, and Slieve Gullion. Experience the solstice in Ireland is a unique journey, and annual pilgrimages to these ancient monuments on the day of the Solstice are still practiced today. Newgrange is probably Ireland’s most famous Neolithic-era monument but do note that the solstice at Newgrange has a long waiting list.

    As our team is based in Sligo, we think that the Summer Solstice sunset at the Carrowkeel tomb complex is the best Irish solstice to experience, pictured here. Very beautiful and far 

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    Cairn G of Carrowkeel lit up during the Summer Solstice sunset.

    Never-ending Summer Days

    During summer around the time of the Summer Solstice, the days are long. The amount of daylight during the summer months is simply incredible. Officially, the sunset can be as late as 22h15 (10h15 pm) and as early as 4 am. But even after the sunset and running up to the sunrise, there is still a wild amount of luminosity. Most days in Ireland, there is some manner of light or twilight until past midnight, and starts again at 3 in the morning.

    This means that you’ll get long days and plenty of hours to fill doing exciting things! Whether that means you want to go for an evening hike, a late walk on the beach, or simply sit outside with a pint, summer days in Ireland are nearly never-ending. 

    More About Irish Summer

    Irish Seasons

    Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

    “American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.”

    View profileMore by Dawn

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