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Dark Skies and Night Owls

Arts & Culture
Dark Skies and Night Owls
Event Description

Discover the wild beauty of Rathlin Island in winter with a weekend of stargazing and storytelling, night-walking and more…

Steeped in history and mythology, the rugged landscape of Rathlin – a popular spot with visitors in the summer months – is reclaimed by nature and the islanders during winter. Our unique NI Science Festival event, Dark Skies & Night Owls – delivered in partnership with the Rathlin Development & Community Association – subsequently offers the opportunity to experience the island at this magical, fallow time of year.

During daylight hours you can immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the sea and surrounding coastline as you enjoy bracing walks along the cliffs or across windswept hills and grassland. Take in the stunning scenery from atop the headlands and enjoy an alternate view of Ballycastle and the picturesque Causeway Coastline as you gaze out across the expanse of Rathlin Sound. For those with an interest in storytelling, the free interactive app – Echoes of the Causeway: Stories of Sea-gods, Shipwrecks and Sidhe – will also tell you tales of swans over the Sea of Moyle and more mythological tales that will bring the local landscape to life in a whole new way…

In the evenings, you can settle down in McCuaig’s Bar for a bite to eat and a glass of something, or continue the storytelling with fireside readings of Jill Tomlinson’s classic story, The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark. Winter nights offer the perfect opportunity to look to the sky and discover more about the science and geography of the stars so, weather-permitting, you can then head out for Night-watch at West Lighthouse Visitor Centre. Led by Irish Astronomical Society experts, Terry Mosely and Simon Hearne, these night-time walks will allow you to both explore the wildlife of the island which roams after-hours, as well as the galaxy above us.

The weekend will also include the chance to view a special exhibition at the Manor House, complete with a demonstration of a solar telescope on Saturday morning, which will let you safely observe the sun. Conservation scientist and seabird expert, James Crymble, will then talk about ‘The Effects of Light Pollution on Breeding Sea Birds’ at the Manor House in the afternoon.

As part of this collaborative weekend between the Rathlin Development & Community Association and NI Science Festival, the Boathouse Visitor Centre and Museum will also reopen off-season. Attendees will therefore have the chance to find out more about the island’s past and present through its collection of photographs, articles and other memorabilia.

For those staying on for our night-time events, accommodation is available at Rathlin Glamping’s luxurious pods, which are opening specially for the weekend, while apartment accommodation is available at Druim, with both locations offering stunning sea views. The Manor House in Church Bay also boasts panoramic views of the ocean and will again, host visitors over the weekend.

Wherever you stay and whatever you do across the weekend, our Dark Skies & Night Owls event on Rathlin promises to be something special – the perfect chance to relax, unwind and get better acquainted with the natural world…

Non-residents must book accommodation and ferry tickets in advance.


Weekend itinerary

Friday 17th February (Overnight Accommodation required)

  • 18:15 – Introduction to the weekend.
  • 18:30 – Fireside reading of Jill Tomlinson’s classic novel, The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, hosted by Rathlin Islanders.
  • 19:30 – Night-watch at West Lighthouse Visitor Centre.

Saturday 18th February

  • 11:00 – Exhibition in the Manor House and demonstration of a solar telescope to safely observe the sun.

Afternoon:

  • 13:00 – A talk by conservation scientist and seabird expert, James Crymble, on ‘The Effects of Light Pollution on Breeding Sea Birds’ at the Manor House.
  • 14:00 – Boathouse Visitor Centre and Museum open for viewing.

Evening: (Overnight Accommodation required)

  • 18:00 – Continuation of the fireside reading of The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, hosted by Rathlin Islanders.
  • 19:00 – Night walk: Observing darkness, stars and wildlife while you walk.
  • 20:00 – Night-watch at West Lighthouse Visitor Centre.

Sunday 19th February

  • 10:00 – Final fireside reading of The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson, hosted by Rathlin Islanders, with related arts activities.
  • The Next Star: What to see when you go home, feedback from the weekend.


Where to stay on Rathlin? The following venues are opening especially for this event:

Book your ferry at rathlin-ferry.com

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