Chasing Ireland’s Northern Lights

Most of us can only dream of seeing the Northern Lights with our own eyes. Thankfully, these photographers were on hand to capture the magic for us

One of the more iconic images taken in January 2012 provided by Adam Rory Porter

There’s no light show in the world like it. No amount of modern shimmering screens, zapping lasers or spinning disco balls can match mother nature’s sky show: The Northern Lights. Think the Aurora Borealis and you probably imagine setting your compass for spots like Scandinavia, North America or Greenland.

As one tiny coastal community will tell you, though, there’s more where that came from.

The greening

It’s January 2012. Over Donegal’s most northern skies a mystical hue has taken County Donegal residents by surprise as they looked out over Malin Head.

It couldn’t be, could it?

There was, however, no denying it. This was the Aurora Borealis. But how, and why? According to local tourism group Visit Inishowen, “the Aurora Borealis has its best chance of being seen in more than a decade because of a peak in the sun's activity.” This means we’re looking at a few years of such remarkable sightings.

Naturally, local photographers weren’t about to miss out. Cue a hasty exodus of snappers towards the seaside town village of Ballyliffin minutes from Donegal’s jagged coast. They weren’t alone. Helping the group time their shots just perfectly was local astronomy enthusiast Brendan Alexander. Brendan has been monitoring the situation closely and sending out alerts via his Twitter account @donegalskies.

Martina Gardiner was just one of those following the thread.

When Martina realised the Northern Lights could be seen from Donegal, she became fascinated with them: “Since then I’ve had an interest in finding out more and eventually photographing them.” Thanks to @donegalskies, her chance came.

“We could see the stars appearing from the east and by the time we had our cameras organised we could see a brightness in the sky to the North. Before long I began taking photos and knew that this was something special. It really was a fantastic week chasing the Northern Lights and it's exciting to think that there’s plenty more to come.”

Bren Whelan's Aurora experience

Bren Whelan took his astounding shots on Pollen Beach, Inishowen, while looking towards Malin Town and Malin Head. Both images were taken on 23 January 2012 at about 1:00am, and involved about 20 minutes of exposure time. Bren says “The name 'Glashedy' translates to 'The Island of the Green Cloak', a name which suited this special January night, as Inishowen lay beneath one of nature's most beautiful solar cloaks, the Aurora Borealis.”

Pollen Beach, Inishowen  

Photo courtesy of Bren Whelan

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Adam Rory Porter's advice

Adam Rory Porter was another fortunate photographer in the right place at the right time: “To see the Northern Lights appear on your camera’s LCD screen is wonderful, as is viewing them on a laptop or PC when you get home from the darkness. But to see them with your own eyes whilst out under the skies in Inishowen is something else...”

He advises the following to potential photographers, “camera setting are usually in the 800 iso to 3200 iso region, f4, f2.8 or faster aperture and a shutter speed of 20 seconds plus.”

Photo courtesy of Adam Rory Porter

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