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.