Co. Mayo: ‘Where the darkest skies reveal the brightest stars’

You might expect Ireland to be quiet now that summer and tourist traffic have fled. But the country is positively hopping. There is no end to the fun and fascinating activities on deck for October – fairs, festivals, Halloween/Samhain happenings, and more are in the lineup.


This is an era with increased emphasis on the environment, global warming, pollution, and the kind of a world we want to leave for our heirs. With that in mind, light pollution is the focus this month in Mayo, “where the darkest skies reveal the brightest stars.”

From Oct. 28 through Oct. 30, there will be walks, talks, workshops, and stargazing at the second Mayo Dark Sky Festival in Newport, Mulranny, and Ballycroy. The first ever Mayo Dark Sky Festival was held last October. See,, or for details on this year’s events.

Co. Mayo, on Ireland’s western seaboard, is home to Ireland’s first International Dark Sky Park. The designation recognizes the region’s pristine skies and enhances its protected landscapes and wilderness regions.

This is Ireland’s second Dark-Sky Association designation. The first was the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve on the Iveragh Peninsula that is home to nearly 4,000 residents. The Reserve incorporates some 700 square kilometers along the Wild Atlantic Way tourist route. Its location between the Kerry Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean gives natural protection from light pollution.

Last year the Dark-Sky Association gave Gold Tier status to the Mayo Park, which includes Ballycroy National Park and the adjoining Wild Nephin wilderness. This is the highest possible award and means Mayo is now “recognized internationally as one of the best places in the world to view the wonders of the night.”

Ballycroy National Park and the Wild Nephin wilderness cover more than 110 square kilometers of mountainous Atlantic blanket bog and forest. Viewing sites for visiting astronomers have been designated and graded by ease of access and facilities available.

Said Dr. Aoibhinn Ni Shulleabhain: “This region provides unique opportunities for people to marvel and wonder at all our night sky has to offer from the Northern Lights to the Milky Way.”

The Dark Sky Park brochure says, “Millions of children throughout the world will never see the Milky Way because of light pollution (an inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light.) Light pollution steals our view of the stars, wastes money, and has adverse effects on our health, wildlife, and environment. Dark Sky places preserve the starry skies, inspire creativity, and reconnect us with the natural beauty of the night.”

Mayo’s County Council has committed to dark-sky-friendly lighting in the area and is working with the Friends of Mayo Dark-Skies to reduce light pollution where possible.

The International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit based in the US, has worked since 1988 to preserve and protect night skies from light pollution for current and future generations around the world.


It’s that frighteningly spooky time of year, so while you’re in Mayo for the dark skies, be sure to stop at Westport House to enjoy ghosties and ghoulies at the annual Halloween Fest from Oct. 28 to Oct. 31.

Westport House’s Pirate Adventure Park will offer rides on the Pirate Swinging Ship, Log Flume Ride, Chair-O-Planes, and Helter Skelter! Then head up to the “haunted” main house for wicked tales during Scary Story Time. You can also carve a creepy pumpkin, visit the dark dungeons where the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley once secured her prisoners, decorate ghoulish goblin cupcakes during the Spooky Spoons workshop, and learn how to dance like a zombie at the apocalyptic kiddie’s disco!

There are more Halloween events on tap in Ireland this month. See for details on having “fun by day and fright by night” at the Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival, which runs from Oct. 7 to Nov. 5. Information is also available at
Events will be held all across Co. Meath, which is part of the Boyne Valley. There will be haunted hills, eerie graveyards, friendly witches, terror houses, and more.


Whether you’re a visiting or resident vampire, the Bram Stoker Festival 2017 in Dublin from Oct. 27 to Oct. 30 promises to have something for everyone in its gothicly inspired program of events.

According to the festival website, Abraham “Bram” Stoker was born Nov. 8, 1847, in Clontarf, Dublin, and educated at Trinity College from 1864-1870.

Stoker began writing novels while in London – the most famous of which is “Dracula,” published in 1897. The global importance of that novel is one of the many reasons why Dublin is internationally recognized as a UNESCO City of Literature.

As part of the Bram Stoker Festival, there will be a rare screening of the 1932 French-German horror movie “Vampyr” in the gothic surrounds of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Oct. 27.

Thrill seekers will want to take in Turning Vampire Mixtape in Vicar Street on Oct. 29 for music, giggles, and ghouls with a night of songs and collaborations celebrating music from the best-known horror movies.

For details on this extensive program of theatre, visual arts, and music in haunting locations across the city that celebrate Dublin’s gothic and supernatural traditions, visit

There are Samhain (a pagan festival marking the end of harvesting and beginning of winter) and Halloween events all over Ireland so be sure to visit the tourist office wherever you visit for more information.


One of my favorite things to do in the autumn is attend a country fair and there are many across Ireland at this time of year.

Probably the most famous is the Co. Galway’s Ballinasloe Horse Fair, Europe’s oldest and largest horse fair that dates back to the 18th century. It’s a fascinating slice of Irish and European life with much more than horses to see. The fair is Oct. 1-8 this year and the town totally has a carnival atmosphere with hawkers and vendors, food carts and equestrian events of all sorts.

We’ve also attended the popular Maam Cross fair in Connemara where farmers/breeders sell horses but also offer all kinds of farm and domestic animals; we even saw a cage of ferrets for sale one year. The Maam Cross Fair is outside Peacocke’s Hotel and Complex on Tues., Oct. 31, and it’s great fun.


The 3d annual Connemara Green Festival will be held in Letterfrack from Oct. 6 to Oct. 8. This festival celebrates Mother Nature, aims to raise awareness of Connemara’s unique ecology, and raises funds for biodiversity projects. See for more details.
“Conamara Sea Week” brings Letterfrack to life again over two weekends from Oct. 22-Oct. 30 with music workshops, art exhibits, concerts, talks, walks, children’s activities, sports events, and something for everyone in the family. For details, see


Now that summer has ended, look for air and land bargains online or call your favorite travel agent. And visit for details on what’s happening in Ireland while you’re there.