This week saw blast off for the new £1.2M OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory with a mini rocket launch marking the official opening of the ‘star attraction’ at Davagh Forest in the foothills of the Sperrin mountains.
Performing the countdown to the official opening of the new facility were the Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan and Rural Affairs Minister, Edwin Poots MLA.
The new visitor centre and observatory, with its cedar cladding and sedum green roof, sits in one of only 2 places in Ireland to be designated as an International Dark Sky Park, where a lack of light pollution allows unrivalled views of the night sky and makes the site ideal for star-gazing.
Bringing space exploration right down to earth, the OM exhibition uses virtual reality, touch screens, binoculars, mini-telescopes and interpretative panels to help visitors explore our solar system on guided tours.
The centrepiece of the building is the first floor observatory with a retractable roof where the 14 inch LX600 Meade telescope will be in action during special star-gazing events and VIP tours.
The full night-time experience, including the OM Odyssey films which are screened outside, will follow in the autumn, speeding the audience from urban lights into the vastness of the universe or swooping them through an ancient forest, under the fast-flowing Broughderg River before they soar into the sky.
Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, said:
“This is a unique development in a truly special place, with an ancient landscape, amazing archaeology, including Beaghmore Stone Circles which is considered by some to have been the first observatory on this land, all under the darkest of skies with unrivalled views of the galaxy.
“This has been a long-awaited opening, paused several times by the pandemic, and I am delighted that visitors can now finally begin to experience the landscape, its connections to ancient peoples and to the skies and stars through the exhibition at OM, with our night-time film screenings still to look forward to later in the year.
“This opening is a milestone in our strategy to build a strong, sustainable tourism offering in the Sperrins, which showcases the region’s stunning landscapes and its history and heritage”.
Only One of It’s Kind in Northern Ireland
Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots said: “I am very pleased to be attending the opening of the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory which my Department has part funded with £500,000 from the Rural Development Programme 2014-20 Rural Tourism Scheme. It is the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland and is one of only 85 places around the globe to hold this distinction.
“This is an exciting and unique project for Northern Ireland and will be one of the ‘must see visitor’ attractions for amateur astronomers, those with an interest in the night sky and as an educational resource for schools and colleges.
“Tourism is one of the key economic sectors for Northern Ireland, providing jobs and livelihoods and supporting many local businesses, including many in rural areas. The Rural Development Programme 2014-20 Rural Tourism Scheme funding has enabled the creation of a unique and innovative visitor attraction in Davagh Forest to encourage visitors, particularly those from out-of-state, to dwell longer and therefore potentially increase overnight stays. The opening of OM Dark Sky Park will attract visitors to this rural part of Northern Ireland and provide a much needed boost to the local economy.”
The project has been part-funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Rural Tourism Scheme under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, and the Landfill Tax Fund.
OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory opens to the public on Thursday 3 June 2021. To find out more and to book, visit www.omdarksky.com.
A Step Back in Time at Crumlin Road Gaol
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has visited the five-star tourist attraction at Crumlin Road Gaol Visitor Attraction and Conference Centre which reopened to visitors last month.
The Minister was given a tour of the historic Gaol, Northern Ireland’s only remaining Victorian era prison, by Managing Director Phelim Devlin.
Speaking afterwards the Minister said: “I am delighted to be here to experience at first-hand the fascinating insight into more than 150 years of history and see it brought to life with the latest technology, amazing figures, furnished cells, films, sound effects and exhibitions. I also had the opportunity to hear of future plans to enhance the visitor experience further.
“Crumlin Road Gaol has experienced a protracted period of closure due to Covid pandemic restrictions but it is pleasing and reassuring to see the measures which have been put in place to ensure a safe and enjoyable return for visitors.
“I would encourage everyone to visit the Gaol for a tour of this historic building and with all the new exhibits now on offer I can highly recommend a return visit to those of you who, like me, have visited in the past. The experience is both captivating and educational with something for all ages to enjoy.”
Managing Director of the Gaol, Phelim Devlin commented: “We were delighted to have the Minister visit the facility. During lockdown we took the opportunity to improve the historic tour and to introduce a more hands on visitor experience. We are thrilled to have been able to re-open our doors again and welcome visitors to the site.”
The Walled City of Derry Makes Shortlist for Leading Emerging Tourism Destination
Derry~Londonderry has made the shortlist for Europe’s Leading Emerging Tourism Destination 2021 at The World Travel Awards; a prestigious global tourism awards programme nicknamed the Oscar’s of Travel. The Walled City of Derry is one of eight finalists in with a chance of scooping the big prize and is competing alongside other emerging city destinations across Europe.
Renowned as one of the finest examples of a Walled City in Europe and the primary destination for cultural and heritage experiences on the island, Derry is a worthy nominee and needs your votes to help scoop the top spot.
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, commented: “We are delighted to be nominated for this award. We know our historic and dynamic city is unique and deserves to be recognised on a worldwide stage. Tourism is a key economic driver for the region, and we are thrilled it has been recognised as a rising destination in Europe. It is a major boost for the local tourism industry and provides great publicity for the city region and Northern Ireland.”
Odhran Dunne, Chief Executive of Visit Derry continued: “We are delighted Derry has been nominated for Europe’s Leading Emerging Tourism Destination. Being a finalist in this prestigious award, puts us on a world stage as we begin to emerge from the covid crises and rebuild tourism. It strengthens our international appeal and rewards the commitment of all players in our local industry to position the city region as a must-visit destination. We have all the ingredients of a standout destination, centred on our historic City Walls, heritage, renowned lively cultural and events scene and strategic geographic location to be nominated for the award is fantastic. We look forward to the global industry and travel consumers recognising our emerging potential and giving us their vote!”
International voting is now open, and the winner will be the finalist who gains the most votes. To vote for Derry as Europe’s Leading Emerging Tourism Destination, visit www.visitderry.com/vote. Voting closes on 14th July 2021.