Mayo Dark Sky Festival

"Our Place in the Cosmos"


March 2016

Getting Here

st-patricks-church-newport-co-mayo-colour-3Ireland has a very well developed nationwide bus service and for this reason getting around Mayo is very easy by bus. The national bus carrier, Bus Eireann, has an extensive selection of public bus services throughout the West of Ireland and Mayo. Bus Eireann offers many open-road visitor bus passes that allow unlimited travel on bus services for several days.

Bus services

Bus Eireann route 440 DooaghWestportKnock Airport operates once a day in each direction. On Sundays route 440 does not operate however Expressway route 52 provides an evening journey each way to/from Westport and Galway

Rail access

The nearest rail services may be accessed at Westport railway station approximately 14 km distant. There are several trains a day from Westport railway station to Dublin Heuston via Athlone. See their website at

By Air

You can fly to Mayo from Dublin, the UK and continental Europe.  There are a number of daily services to these locations from airlines service Ireland West Airport Knock (airport code NOC).  Visit the Knock Airport website for flight schedules and more information.

By Car

The county town of Castlebar  is approx 18 km east of Newport and can be accessed via the N5; a national primary road in Ireland, connecting Longford town with Westport. It is the main access route from Dublin (via the M4/N4) to most of County Mayo, including the county  towns of  Castlebar and Westport. Almost all of the route has been improved during the 2000s with the construction of bypasses and extensive resurfacing works on stretches not bypassed.

The road has wide driving lanes and hard shoulders for 65 km between Castlebar and just west of Frenchpark, and between Strokestown and Longford (20 km). When driving to Newport you can come here via Westport on the N59 a national secondary road or direct from Castlebar on the  R311 regional road. But if using this route please use GPS and take the route via the roundabout at Aldi in Castlebar town centre. See a You Tube clip of entering Newport via the R311 at

New Mayo Dark Sky Park

Ballycroy National Park & Wild Nephin wins Gold Tier award for the Mayo Dark Sky Park

On the 5th of May 2016 the Ballycroy/Wild Nephin National Park in North-West Mayo became Ireland’s first Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park as recognised by the International Dark Sky Association. This Mayo project to create Ireland’s only ‘wilderness area’ in the remote Nephin Beg range at Ballycroy National Park was formally launched last year. Ballycroy National Park was established in November 1998, it is Ireland’s sixth National Park and is located on the Western seaboard in northwest Mayo.

The Boardwalk at Ballycroy

It comprises of 11,000 hectares of Atlantic blanket bog and mountainous terrain, covering a vast uninhabited and unspoilt wilderness dominated by the Nephin Beg mountain range. Between Nephin beg and Slieve Carr, at 721metres above sea level, the highest mountain in the range, lie the Scardaun Loughs. To the west of the mountains is the Owenduff bog. This is one of the last intact active blanket bog systems in Ireland and Western Europe and is an important scientific and scenic feature of the National Park.

The “Wild Nephin” wilderness on the other hand has been more than five years in the planning, is a hugely ambitious joint project by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Coillte. It aims to ‘re-wild’ over 6,000 hectares of Coillte forestry and national parkland in northwest Mayo and make it a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, amateur astronomers and adventurous souls seeking an authentic ‘off the grid’ experience.


The Mayo Dark Sky project was started by student Georgia MacMillan during research as part of a BA in Outdoor Education at GMIT Mayo entitled “Preservation of our Night-time skies” ; a study on the impact of light pollution and the potential for establishing a dark-sky park in county Mayo. Ballycroy National Park and Wild Nephin proved to be an ideal location to base the study with it’s pristine skies for star gazing and astronomy activities as well as excellent access and facilities for visitors.  Landowners NPWS (National Park’s & Wildlife Service) and Coillte agreed to come on board very early on in the process and have been fully supportive.

Georgia giving a talk on the Mayo Dark Sky Project

One of the recommendations resulting from the study was to establish a steering group and involve representatives from the surrounding communities.  This has been an integral part of our progress – The Friends of Mayo Dark Skies Steering Group was formed in June 2015.  They now have several communities actively working together along with NPWS and Coillte  as well as Mayo County Council & Development Agencies, all with the preservation of our dark-skies being a common objective.  They have also persuaded Mayo County Council to commit to dark-sky friendly lighting for future lighting development schemes in the area. By building awareness of light pollution (a growing problem in economically successful countries), the West of Ireland can help to reduce wasted energy in excessive lighting, improve functional lighting where needed, reduce impact on wildlife and save costs.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is a United States-based non-profit organization incorporated in 1988 by founders David Crawford, a professional astronomer, and Tim Hunter, a physician/amateur astronomer. The mission of the IDA is “to preserve and protect the night time environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting. IDA’s principal approach is to raise awareness about the value of dark, star-filled night skies and encourage their protection and restoration through education about the problems and solutions, including outdoor lighting practices that create less light pollution. In 2011, the organization had about 5,000 members in 70 countries. The Mayo Dark Sky Park will be one of only 20 other international dark sky parks and the first in Ireland.See

A starry sky and the  Zodiacal Light from the Brogan Carroll Boothy (photo Steve Hanley)

Both of these vast tracts of virtually uninhabited land are set to become part of the Mayo Dark Sky park encompassing an area of 170 sq/km and by designating dark-sky places, we can raise awareness of light pollution while at the same time develop educational/science based programmes through related interests in Astronomy.

The plan is to work with local communities on an environmentally friendly light management plan and encourage appreciation for our pristine night-time skies. This will be a niche attraction for North West Mayo and is a sustainable eco-tourism project with an environmental conscience.

Destination Mayo

Doo Lough

The phrase “hidden treasure” crops up frequently when talking about travel destinations. And who doesn’t dream of finding a hitherto undiscovered gem, in part just to be able to enjoy the sense of smug satisfaction about having unearthed somewhere special when sharing your discovery with others.

While it might be an over-used cliché there are many cases where it’s true, in fact I think Ireland has many hidden travel treasures that don’t make it on to the main tourist trails yet are well worth a visit. Of course the big advantage of hidden treasures is that they’re generally not swamped with tourists. And West Mayo is a case in point. This part of Mayo is extensive in its range of scenery, and breathtaking landscapes, as well as immense in its warm, welcoming hospitality to all visitors. This remote corner of Ireland with its Wild Atlantic coastline, Dark Skies, Majestic mountains and meandering rivers has an unparalleled splendour and natural beauty all its own.

Looking down on Newport

Newport is a picturesque village on the shores of Clew Bay with many amenities and attractions for the visitor. Situated on the banks of the Black Oak river, Newport is only one hour’s drive from Ireland West Airport Knock. Only one hour’s drive from Ireland West Airport Knock, Newport is approx 15kms from Westport and Castlebar and has many visitor amenities and attractions. The area surrounding Newport is rich in history and archaeology with many places of visitor interest including the 15th century Burrishoole Abbey, Rockfleet Castle, once home to the legendary Gráinne Uaile (Grace O’Malley), and the ruins of the ancestral home of the late Princess Grace of Monaco just 3 miles outside Newport, overlooking the tranquil ‘Leg of Mutton’ lake.

Rockfleet Castle

Facilities in Newport include B&B and self-catering accommodation, coffee shops, restaurants, hotel and fast-food takeaway. Savour the atmosphere of traditional Irish music in some of the pubs in Newport at the weekends. The 42km Great Western Greenway from Westport through Newport to Achill is Irelands’ longest off road cycling and walking facility. Golf, fishing, sea-angling, hill-walking and numerous Blue Flag beaches are all within a short drive away.


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