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Blast Off For Newest ‘Star Attraction’

Today (2 June) was 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."

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.

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