(Northern) Lights…Cameras…Action! – A Complete Guide to Catching Aurora Borealis in Ireland

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Man and woman standing by their pick-up truck watching beautiful aurora borealis

For those who had placed viewing the Northern Lights right at the top of their bucket list, the past couple of months proved to be very lucky. The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis as they are called in the northern hemisphere made several appearances right here in Ireland, saving enthusiasts from having to pack their bags and heading to the Nordic countries to chase these beauties.

If you think you missed the boat, fret not. Here’s a complete guide on how to view the Northern Lights in Ireland. From best-placed counties, weather conditions to look out for, to Aurora Borealis alert services – we have jotted it all down in this handy little piece.

A sky lit up with Northern Lights in shades of purple, green and pink

Science behind the sights – How do they form?

The Irish Meteorological Service explains that the Northern Lights are “the results of collisions between gas particles in our atmosphere and charged particles ejected from the Sun’s atmosphere.” The colour of the Northern Lights change due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. Which means that oxygen molecules approximately 100 km above the earth produce a greenish yellow colour whereas a red aurora can be seen when high level oxygen molecules are involved. Blue or purple auroras suggest the presence of nitrogen molecules.

If you rather skip the science and want to head straight to where you can view these beautiful displays of colour, we get you! But first, just a few pointers on the months when your chances of viewing this auroral phenomenon are at the highest.

Spectacular sightings – When are you most likely to catch the Northern Lights in Ireland?

The best time of the year to witness the Northern Lights is reportedly in September and March. But don’t worry if you have missed that window of opportunity in September. The cold winter months from October to February also offer a good chance of seeing the lights. You are most likely to see them between midnight and 2 AM and so you do need to be a bit of a night owl!

Watch out for the ideal weather

You will need clear night skies, preferably those that are free of clouds. Skies that sport a bit of dusting of clouds is perfectly okay, but you won’t be able to view them if there’s a thick cloud cover. You will also need to be away from light pollution – this includes traffic and streetlights. Beaches, national parks, Dark Sky reserves and isolated places which are free from any kind of light pollution is where you should aim to head to. Thankfully, we have plenty of those here in Ireland.

Boost your luck – Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights in Ireland?

Your best bet to catch the Northern Lights will be at locations with very small amounts of light pollution. Which means that parts of the west and north coast would usually offer the greatest chance of seeing the colourful displays. Certain counties like Donegal, Antrim, Sligo, and Mayo have had many sightings of the Northern Lights but there are other places in Ireland where these have been visible as well.

Dublin

You may have certainly come across social media posts that captured a traveller’s envy-inducing photographs as they caught the lights whilst on a flight from Dublin to UK. Truth be told, it’s not very usual to have these viewings in Dublin. But you can boost your lucky chances by heading to the Wicklow mountains, however some Dubliners have also been fortunate to capture these from the

Poolbeg Lighthouse in Dublin, from Balbriggan (over the Mourne Mountains from north Dublin) as well as Burrow Beach. (Gorgeous pictures posted on @auroraalertsIRE, which is a good account to follow for tips and forecasts alerting you to Northern Lights sightings.)

So, while Dublin may not feature as the best or the top location in Ireland to chase the Northern Lights, you can still get lucky if you have the right weather conditions, follow relevant social media and Aurora Borealis forecast accounts. (See box at the end for these accounts and alert services.)

Donegal

As the most northerly point in Ireland, Malin Head in Inishowen scores high as one of the best places in Ireland to view the Aurora Borealis. It also helps that many other locations like Dunree, Mamore Gap, Fanad Head and Ballyliffin also offer good opportunities and that’s because these are low on pollution.

You can of course opt for a Northern Lights photography tour – there are a number of providers in Donegal who offer tours like these. Also, worthwhile to have a browse about at the website of astrophotographer Brendan Alexander who has captured many of the spectacular night sky views from around the county. (Check out DonegalSkies.com)

Sligo

Sligo has also recorded a number of sightings in the past few years. One of the top locations has been the Mullaghmore Peninsula. Easkey is also a good spot, so keep it on your list if you are in Sligo.

Mayo

Achill Island, which has been in the news all year round and very popular with tourists after its claim to fame for The Banshees of Inisherin is also an excellent location for viewing the Northern Lights. You may have read our guide to Achill Island, and you may remember Minaun Heights. Apart from being a very popular spot for walkers, cyclists, and drone enthusiasts, it is also your best bet to get some Instagram-worthy shots of the Aurora Borealis.

Kerry

Kerry is home to the Dark Sky Reserve, which offers the ideal conditions to catch a spectacular Northern Lights display. It provides pristine dark skies, and a lack of light pollution means you can see the star constellations and planets in the most beautiful way, and if you are lucky enough – the Aurora Borealis as well. You could also head to Valentia Island, which is much sought after by tourists because of its proximity to Skellig Michael – one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Republic of Ireland, and the location of Star Wars movie (The Force Awakens). It is low on pollution so you can try your chances there as well.

Cork

Though it’s not very frequent, in April this year, West Cork got some incredible views of the Northern Lights. Locals and both professional and amateur photographers were so delighted that social media posts were on fire with some amazing pictures of the dancing lights. Apparently, the best views in Cork were caught from West Cork.

Galway

Similarly, Galway residents were treated to sightings of the Northern Lights in August this year, and these appeared over the Connemara.

Northern Ireland

The Antrim Coast is considered to be the best when it comes to watching this celestial dance.

What to pack

Now that we have given you plenty of options, the question is – what should you pack when on an outing to see the Northern Lights in Ireland? Be certain to wrap up warmly, pack a flask of tea, hot chocolate or coffee, and remember to carry a torch or flashlight. If you have a manual camera, and a wide-angle lens, that’s just perfect and do carry a tripod as well. Most of all, pack some patience and luck, and do tag us if you catch the dancing flames in the skies!

Aurora alert accounts and services

Follow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This website provides a thirty-minute forecast for the Aurora.

· @auroraalertsIRE – is also an account that you should keep in your radar.

· https://astronomy.ie/ – Keep an eye out for the aurora alerts service on this website.

· Aurora Alerts Ireland page on Facebook has interesting updates and timely alerts.

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