Construction will commence this week on the £1.25m Dark Sky Observatory at Davagh Forest, Cookstown with funding investment of £500k secured from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Rural Tourism Scheme under the EU Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, and a further £245k towards the project from the Landfill Tax Fund.
Being developed by Mid Ulster District Council, the new centre will house an exhibition, observatory and telescope to showcase the uniquely dark sky at the ancient site in the Sperrins, giving visitors an opportunity to experience the night sky as it is rarely viewed – and as it would have been seen centuries ago by our ancestors.
Combining the latest tech, from holographic installations to virtual reality headsets with colourful, accessible interpretation panels and hands-on activities, visitors to the centre will be able to explore our solar system from our sun and moon to our stars and the planets.
The centre piece of the space will be a star-gazing telescope, opening up the opportunities to view the night sky without light pollution and establishing Davagh as the only official ‘dark sky’ reserve here.
The centre will also host events and offer an education programme.
Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Sean McPeake is looking forward to seeing the new million pound facility taking shape, he said: “Mid Ulster is very fortunate to possess this unique and impressive tourist attraction, Davagh Dark Sky, within its boundaries. The new observatory and visitor centre will allow us to properly showcase this one-of-a-kind offering by providing visitors with a full and interactive experience truly encapsulating the depth of history and mystery the site commands.
“The centre marks a very significant investment from the Council and other funders and when complete, will be the only official ‘dark sky’ reserve here so it is great to see the construction work commencing, bringing us one step closer to this end goal. I look forward to seeing work on the fantastic facility progress and eagerly await its opening next spring.”
Paul Donnelly, Director of Rural Affairs Division DAERA said ‘I am delighted the Department is investing £500k in this innovative tourism project that will act as a key driver for encouraging visitors to Mid Ulster. I believe this project will contribute greatly to the tourism offering within the Council area and support the delivery of the Department’s vision for a living, working, active landscape valued by everyone.”
Lowry Building and Civil Engineering are the appointed building contractor and the project architect is Teague and Sally, Cookstown. The exhibition and interpretation is being developed by Tandem.
The new centre is scheduled to open in spring 2020.