The Spectacular Northern Lights in Donegal, Ireland.

Northern Lights over Donegal

The Northern Lights may be more popularly associated with Norway and Iceland, but did you know that every once in a while, this incredible natural phenomena lights up the night skies over the northern half of Ireland? This is exactly what happened for two nights recently when the people of Donegal were treated to the most amazing display of the aurora, as captured by Donegal photographer Niall Timoney above. For hours, the whole northern horizon went green and yellow with massive pillars of pink, ruby and red light flickering skywards

Over recent years, Donegal has become renowned as one of the best places in western Europe to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. There are a few reasons for this. Despite being part of the southern Republic of Ireland, geographically, Donegal is the most northerly county in Ireland. Another advantage Donegal has is its dark skies on clear, frosty nights. There are also no cities in Donegal so no major sources of light pollution. Seen in a night-time satellite image from space, Donegal sits right on the edge of the vast and darkened Atlantic Ocean, next stop Newfoundland!

The intensity of this aurora event over Ireland was caused by a coronal mass ejection from the sun that passed over the earth in a geomagnetic storm this creating a dazzling natural light show.

Traditionally in Ireland, the Northern Lights were called ‘streamers’. In folklore, some people even believed that the aurora created a mysterious matter that fell to earth. If found it was said to be a cure for burns! In his famous Victorian childrens’ poem ‘The Faeries,’ William Allingham invoked the Northern Lights as a fleeting magical fairy kingdom of great merriment visited by an old faery king:

On a bridge of grey mist Glencolmcille he crosses,
On his stately journeys from Slieve League to the Rosses,
Or going up with music and cold starry nights
To sup with the queen of the gay Northern Lights.

I can recall a fondly treasured memory from about twenty years ago, when one starry winter’s night in Donegal, I gazed up in wonder at another special spectacle of Northern Lights. An immense white streamer seemed to arch right across the very roof of the sky while smaller streamers flowed downwards on both sides in transparent curtains of dancing light among the glistening stars.

If the Northern Lights aren’t on display when you come visit Ireland, you are still in for a treat on bright moon rises after sunsets, or on nights when the Milky Way stretches above Donegal’s Atlantic seaboard, lighting up the heavens overhead with a wondrous celestial luminosity.