First International Dark Sky Reserve Named in Ireland

More good news for those of us who treasure dark skies to enjoy the wonders of the universe.  On January 27, 2014, the International Dark Sky Association named its first International Dark Sky Place in the Republic of Ireland.  Not only is the first in Ireland, but Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve is the first of its kind in the northern hemisphere to be awarded the top tier “gold status” which places into an elite group of the darkest locations recognised by the IDA which includes the NamibRand National Park in Namibia and the Aoraki Mackenzie in New Zealand.


Winter constellations over St. Finian’s Bay near Ballinskelligs, Ireland Credit: Steve Owens, International Dark Sky Association

The new gold rated reserve sits on the Iveragh Peninsula and is home to almost 4,000 residents and covers approximately 270 square miles (700 square km).  The location already benefited from some natural features to shield against light pollution by the nature of its position between the Kerry Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean but the residents decided they wanted to do more.

The three-year campaign by the Kerry Dark Sky Group, included educating local residents, civic organisations and municipalities on the importance of dark sky protection which has seen several towns and villages in County Kerry enacting laws requiring responsible outdoor lighting practices to mitigate light pollution.  The Kerry County Council for example, has committed to replace all public street lighting with efficient, dark-sky friendly light fixtures in 2014.

Local councils and tourism operators in Kerry hope that the new Dark Sky Reserve will raise the region’s visibility as a tourist destination for stargazing under dark Irish skies.  “This is a major step forward introducing new tourism to our area and we will make every effort to provide an example of what a true dark-sky area looks like,” said Russell Jackson of the Ballinskelligs Tourism Group.


Night sky over the Skellig Islands, Ireland. Credit: Peter Cox

As well as benefitting those of us who wish to observe the splendours of the universe, curbing light pollution in County Kerry also benefits programs working to protect local wildlife.  Various bird, fish and mammal species rely on the dark skies over Kerry govern life-sustaining behaviours such as reproduction, migration, and foraging for food.

Congratulations to all of those involved in the award of the Gold Tier dark sky status!


The IDA established the International Dark Sky Places conservation program in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach. Since the program began, five communities, thirteen parks and five reserves have received International Dark Sky designations. For more information about the International Dark Sky Places Program, click here.

An International Dark Sky Reserve is a public or private land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment mission of a large peripheral area. The International Dark Sky Reserve consists of a core area meeting the minimum criteria for sky quality and natural darkness, and a peripheral area that supports dark sky values in the core and receives benefits from them as well. The International Dark Sky Reserve is formed through a partnership of multiple land owners and/or administrators that have recognized the value of the starry night through regulation and/or formal agreement and/or long term planning.

Three tiers designate the quality of night skies the reserve is recognized for. Gold represents the highest award representing the darkest skies, followed by the Silver and Bronze designations. Requirements for each of the designations are shown in the table below.

Dark Sky Criteria

Dark Sky Criteria. Source: International Dark Sky Association

Dark Sky Reserves

Current List of International Dark Sky Reserves

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