How it All Began
It was the year 1997 when Comet HALE-BOPP, stunned astronomer’s across Ireland and the world. Hale-Bopp was arguably the most widely observed comet of the twentieth century and one of the brightest seen for many decades. It was visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months, twice as long as the previous record holder in 1811. The interest stirred by this once in a lifetime event sowed the seeds of the Galway Astronomy Club. For a city with an ever-expanding population, it was the best time for a club promoting astronomy in the region to be founded and today has a membership of over 60 people of all ages from the city and surrounding area.
Who We Are
Whatever the level of your interest in Astronomy, welcome to Galway Astronomy Club, especially in what is a very exciting few months…..We are a very informal, friendly club and provide a service for the complete beginner as well as those with sophisticated home observatories. We hold regular meetings, star parties and other events for members and the public alike. We are also more than happy to present talks to clubs, schools and other organisations around the county. Talks and visits are free although donations to the society are gratefully accepted. We invite everyone to join in our events, whenever and wherever they happen!
Galway “City of the Tribes” is one of the most unlikely places to have an astronomy Club, as is possibly the cloudiest place in Ireland. One would ask why have an astronomy club then, but Galway is situated at the gateway to Connemara, which is home to some of the darkest skies in Western Europe.
Our first meeting was held in the Merlin Bar, Renmore in September 1998 and was attended by just six people, a committee was formed being led by the energetic Martin Quirke and from then the on the club expanded rapidly and moved to a larger premises at the River Inn close to NUI Galway. From the beginning the club was also known as the Galway Branch of Astronomy Ireland and in 1999 after much internal debate we decided to sever or links with AI and join a new grouping called IFAS (Irish Federation of Astronomical of Societies) which is an umbrella group of independent Astronomical Clubs & Societies in the 32 counties. At this time our meetings usually consisted of astronomy slideshows or video’s. Observing sessions were also an active part of our program and were held at Silver Strand as in the photo below which was the first such gathering.
In July 1999 the club moved to a more pernament venue at the Atlanta Hotel in Dominick Street and held a series of higly succesful public events at the Westside carpark. Firstly in early 1999 the club held a planet watch as Jupiter and Saturn made a rare conjuntion in the evening sky to be followed on August 11 by an Solar eclipse watch.
Over 400 people attended this event and was a huge boost for the astronomy club. Because of the high density populated in the areas of the path, there is little doubt that this was the most viewed total solar eclipse in human history and the first visible Ireland in the since 1927. The morning started wet and cloudy but by the time of near totality at 11.11am almost 98% of the Solar disc was covered by the Moon and visible to the naked eye through cloud to the delight of the many onlookers who came to view the spectacle.
In 2001 the club held its first daytrip when 25 members took part in a trip to Birr Castle, subsequent trips in the following years visited Newgrange, Armagh Planetarium, The Ceide Fields and a visit to the ancestral home of John Birmingmam in Tuam. (see History section
By this time meetings became more structured and several people from NUI Galway including Professor Mike Redfern came and gave us an wonderful insight to the world of Astronomy. In 2003 the idea of holding a one day astronomy conference similar to the Whirlpool Starparty was discussed and the Connaught Starparty was born. the first event in January 2004 was a major success with over 120 amateur astronomers from around Ireland attending. Talks from that event will shortly be available online.
Also in the same year hundreds of people driving torwards Galway witnessed a fiery spectacle in the twilight sky. It was February 12th when at 7.10am a huge fireball was seen in the sky over the city. Precise sightings were made by two people in Galway, one on the right hand side of Galway airport and the other on the left hand side of the Tuam road. The then club chairman Martin Quirke told the Galway Advertiser the fireball probably entered the earth’s atmosphere at roughly 100,000mph and started glowing about 100 miles above Ireland. Other radio interviews were held that day to somewhat confused Galway City residents.
The following morning the front page of local papers were dominated by this story and to eventual landing site. In the end nothing was found and was thought it landed somewhere in Galway Bay. Several people contacted the club and brought along unusual looking rocks to club meetings but these were not of cosmic origin.
The Galway Astro Festival
The Galway Astronomy Festival was conceived out of the original Connaught Star Party with the aim to promote Astronomy in a city that is quickly becoming a centre for astronomical excellence. While through the years many famous faces have contributed to the festival including Mary Bruck, Leo Enright, Francisco Diego and Barrie Jones.
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