An out-of-this-world project is nearing completion and will make Northern Ireland a world-class destination for constellation and planet seekers from around the globe, according to Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots.
He was speaking after he visited the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory – a jointly funded project between the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and Mid Ulster Council.
The observatory is located deep in the Davagh Forest, where there is so little light pollution that it boasts one of the darkest skies in Ireland – making the stars and planets more visible when the conditions are right.
Mr Poots said: “This is an exciting and truly unique project that will attract star-gazers from all over the world to seek out constellations and planets in super high-quality and using the latest technology.
“My department allocated £500,000 towards the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory, through the Rural Tourism Scheme which provides funding to invest tourism products that act as a key driver for encouraging rural tourism and out of state visitors.
“This project will appeal to the curious mind and those who want to explore what lies beyond the stars and what the eye can see.
“The centre piece of the observatory is a star-gazing telescope which, during special events, will provide the opportunity to view the night sky without light pollution.
“When opened the centre will increase visitor numbers to the Sperrins and bring an economic boost for the area.
“I am very happy that my department was able to fund such an exciting initiative.”
Davagh Forest lies approximately 10 miles north of Cookstown and covers 1,500 hectares.
It is sited close to the ancient Beaghmore Stone Circles, at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Chair of the council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, welcomed Mr Poots to the facility.
Mr Mallaghan said: “Funding through the Rural Tourism Scheme has contributed enormously to the council’s investment in creating what can only be described as a unique facility which showcases the amazingly dark skies at Davagh.
“I was pleased to welcome the Minister to OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory for a preview tour ahead of our opening this autumn and to experience first-hand what his department’s financial support has helped to realise.”
The OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory is part of a three phase development at the site and the council has also been successful in receiving further funding of £880,837 from the Rural Tourism Scheme towards the “Davagh Outdoor experience” and ‘Walking’ trails.
The Davagh projects have been developed by Mid Ulster District Council through a Licence Agreement with Forest Service.
The council vision for Davagh Forest is to develop a flagship visitor attraction within the Sperrins area which will attract visitors from within Northern Ireland and out of state which will contribute to the economic growth of the area.