There are many compelling reasons to visit Donegal all year round and most recently we have enjoyed welcoming visitors from all over the world to experience the dazzling display of dancing lights in regular sightings of the Northern Lights, otherwise known as Aurora Borealis. What makes Donegal such a great destination for viewing one of nature’s most breath-taking phenomena is not just our northerly location but the absence of light pollution as well as some amazing back-drops such as Slieve League, Malin Head and many more iconic attractions dotted along the Wild Atlantic Way .
So what are the Northern Lights and what causes them?
Northern Lights, or the aurora borealis, are colourful displays in the sky formed from collisions of particles from the Earth’s atmosphere and the Sun, which cause the air particles to light up. Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, the Aurora occurs when highly-charged electrons from the solar wind collide with different atmospheric elements in the ring surrounding the North Pole. I can’t pretend to know or understand the science behind the Northern Lights but like many people, I have a fascination with this hypnotic display of nature’s power. Like Donegal, it is pure and untamed and like the weather, predictably unpredictable.
In my ‘light’ research (forgive the pun), I had lovely chats with a local lady, Marie Gallagher who has a wealth of knowledge about Northern Light Hunting and is always happy to share her stories of the secrets of the night-time sky. Marie has spent many nights outside braving the elements with camera and flask of tea at the ready.
Donegal photographer Noel Keating has captured the spirit of the Northern Lights in all their splendid glory with his incredible time-lapse footage over Slieve League. Big thanks to Noel for sharing his remarkable talent with the world. Have a look at this hauntingly beautiful video that will cast a spell on you.
I love this wee story by my sister Nuala’s partner, Brian Doyle.
“My earliest memories of the term “The Northern Lights” come from my mother Muriel. As a youngster, we often went for walks along the seashore in Wicklow where she would regale me with tales of seeing the Aurora Borealis on long winter nights from her bedroom in the Station Masters railway house where she lived during the second world war. Whether imagined or not by my mother , it gave me an immense curiosity about the wonders of our night sky and a deep and long held wish to witness the magic unfold before my own eyes.
“My mother was a young teenage girl at the time and her descriptions of the amazing colour from the light in the northern sky was also interspersed with her vivid memories of the war. As a young girl, she lay terrified in her bed at night. She could hear & see the flashes of bombs and British searchlights across the Irish Sea in Liverpool & along the Welsh coast and it’s fringes. Thankfully for me, my mother witnessed such terror from a distance and is still living to tell the tale.
In the last few years, modern technologies have given us a greater understanding of the cosmos and our place in it. However, It seems now that the more we know, the more we don’t know ! A couple of years back, I was watching out for the Aurora forecast and the alert was high. I had long pestered my own children for years about the wonders that the night sky displays in all its majestic beauty and so on a clear night, we headed for Cashelard mountain and looked to the North.
Four frozen kids and me standing on a mountain looking at the stars in the freezing cold was just wonderful. The questions came thick and fast and I can’t pretend that I answered them all correctly but the memory will last with me forever. Shooting stars grazed through the inky blackness and stars and planets twinkled through the ice cold night. Donegal is truly a fabulous place to view the night sky. With little or no light pollution, everything above seems to prick wholes in the cloak that surrounds us. This distortionless view of the heavens evokes a memory in me – a line from the great Robert W Service ” High o’er head, green yellow and red, the North lights swept in bars”
Will my little darlings remember that night and tell their own cherished ones in time – who knows? The big question. …. did we see the northern lights that night on Cashelard mountain ? Well let’s meet for a pint sometime soon, somewhere in the hills of Donegal and I’ll finish the story! “
Search for a Star
Star-gazing is a great way for all the family to do something together; to lift ourselves up from the sofa, to disregard the devices and head outside on a mini adventure. There are plenty of opportunities to experience nature’s own mesmerizing light show in the coming months. It seems that we are in for a treat this week as the ‘Taurid meteors’, sometimes known as the ‘Halloween Fireballs’ should peak after midnight on Thursday 12th November. And if we get clouded out or its just too cosy by the fire, there is always the entertaining ‘Germinid’ showers to look forward to, which will present the possibility of seeing up to 120 shooting stars per hour! Time to start wishing ☺
Let the Northern Lights of Donegal enchant and entrance you. Come visit soon. A warm welcome awaits. We can’t promise a starry, starry night but we guarantee that you will enjoy the Harvey’s Point Experience.
Two night Winter Packages including complimentary dinner on one evening: