Work is due to get underway on Northern Ireland’s only Dark Sky Observatory near Cookstown.
It follows the announcement of a funding investment of £500K from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Rural Tourism Scheme under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 for the development at Davagh Forest.
The new star-gazing experience, to include a visitor centre, complete with a virtual reality exhibition and telescope, is being developed by Mid Ulster District Council at a total investment of over £1M.
To be sited close to the ancient Beaghmore Stone Circles, at the foot of the Sperrin mountains, the new centre is scheduled to open in 2019, and will give visitors a unique opportunity to experience the night sky without light pollution.
Speaking after the funding announcement, Chair of the Council, Councillor Kim Ashton, described it as exciting.
“This is one of the most exciting, innovative and progressive tourism development projects of recent times and it is at the core of our work to showcase this part of the country as the heart of ancient Ulster,” she said.
“Visitors will not only look up and be mesmerised by the clear views of star constellations, in exactly the same way as our ancestors living in those hills did, but also look around them at a rich landscape of substantial archaeological and cultural significance and a history which spans not just centuries, but millennia.
“It is these characteristics which the observatory, visitor centre and associated glamping and leisure facilities, will combine to create an unrivalled visitor experience and we are grateful to DAERA for funding which recognises this potential”.
Catherine McCallum, Director Rural Affairs Division, DAERA said it would attract toursts to the Mid Ulster district.
She said: “The £500,000 funding investment in the ‘Dark Sky Observatory’ can act as a driver for encouraging rural tourism and particularly out of state visitors.
“By investing in tourism projects in rural areas the Department believes linkages to other attractions and ‘tourism corridors’ can be developed which should help to encourage further visitors to these rural areas which in turn has the potential to generate significant additional economic and tourism benefits for each area.”
The ‘Davagh Dark Sky’ project is due to commence later this month.