In a green field, fringed by the Davagh Forest Park and surrounded by heathery moorland, you’ll find one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries on the island of Ireland – the Beaghmore Stones. Unearthed by peat-cutters in the 1930s, these mysterious stones form seven large circles, 10 rows and 12 cairns – and no one quite knows why.
According to some archaeologists, the answer lies in the skies above. It’s thought that the construction and layout of Beaghmore may be linked to the solstice, as three of the stone rows point to the midsummer sunrise. Others believe they were built to record the movements of the sun and moon.
Of course, we may never really know what was in the minds of those early Neolithic farmers as they laboriously positioned stones in this remote field in County Tyrone, but it’s fascinating to think that this may have been one of the first observatories on the island of Ireland. Even more so as the tradition of stargazing continues here to this day, with a night sky that’s as clear as it would have been all those thousands of years ago.
Beaghmore sits in what is known as a Dark Sky Park – a place where you can appreciate the night sky, away from light pollution. It’s one of only two Dark Sky Parks on the island of Ireland – and the only one in Northern Ireland. Gazing up at the constellations here is a truly magical experience. In the autumn here, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy, the most distant object that you can observe with the naked eye.
But it’s the Stars and Stones walk run by the OM Observatory that really sets the imagination alight, as you reconnect with nature while learning about the history of the stones. And while the outdoor sky at night here really is the star of the show, the OM Observatory also hosts an excellent indoor exhibition, where you can observe the eight planets in the solar system, or witness the birth of a star on a virtual reality headset.
County Tyrone is not the only place on the island of Ireland where you can enjoy the pure brilliance of the night sky. County Mayo is home to Ireland’s other International Dark Sky Park, with a remote location between the Nephin Mountain Range and the Atlantic coastline. On a clear night, you can see over 4,500 stars here as well as other planets and sometimes even a meteor shower.
County Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula is an International Dark Sky Reserve, which seems fitting given that the coastline here was a prime filming location for Star Wars. The area covered by the reserve was also home to Neolithic people who built stone monuments that incorporate alignments to the cycles of the sun, moon and stars.
And don’t miss the Dark Sky Discovery Site at Carrick-a-Rede and Larrybane – the magical Northern Lights have even been spotted from here and the site is known for its great views of the Milky Way.
Twinkling stars, archaeology and amazing natural locations – it’s time to discover Ireland’s dark side.