Catch the Northern Lights from Inishowen in Co. Donegal

Published on 14 February 2017

It’s the best time of year to watch the Northern Lights, but where in Europe are the best places to catch them? Today we look at Inishowen’s rugged beauty.


The Northern Lights from Inishowen


What are the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are one of the most mystical and awe-inspiring displays to be found in nature. Charged particles in the solar wind collide with the Earth’s magnetosphere at the North Pole, causing multicoloured displays of swirling light in the night sky.

Inishowen Peninsula and the Northern Lights

The Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal is a stunning example of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Sculptured by the Atlantic’s waves and winds for millennia, it’s northern most point, Malin Head, is the very definition of wild and is one of the best vantage points from which to view the Northern Lights in Ireland.

There's very little light pollution on Inishowen, so if bracing into the biting winds on Malin Head to watch the ‘lights’ isn't your thing, you can always visit Moville on the eastern side of Inishowen for a more sheltered view. The picturesque town overlooking Lough Foyle has an old Victorian park that has a bandstand to shelter from the winds.

Dunree Head on the western side also offers shelter in the form of the decommissioned Dunree Fort – now a museum – and has several nature walks and a beautiful beach in a small bay to keep you occupied during the day.

Can I Really see the ‘Lights’ from Donegal?

Depending on the strength of the Solar Wind, the aurora can be seen in latitudes south of the Arctic Circle. While it is impossible to predict what type of display may occur, the lights will usually appear in the northern horizon, but can sometimes appear directly overhead as they would at the North Pole.

When is the Best Time to see Them?

There's no guarantee that the lights will appear, but the best time to try and catch them is in winter and spring. Predicating an appearance of an Aurora can only really be done on the day and then there's no guarantee it will happen. If the forecast is for clear skies, travel to Inishowen and hope for the best.

Can I Photograph the Aurora?

It can be done with the right sort of camera and lens. A tripod is essential as you’ll need a 8- to 20-second exposure depending on the lens, iso and aperture.

Where do I Stay?

If you’re going to travel all that way, you’re going to have to make a weekend of it. Besides, if you miss the aurora on the first night you might still catch it on the second. There’s plenty to do in the meantime, with lots of walks and beaches and you can even try your hand ‘as Gaelige’ with the locals in their very particular dialect. Inishowen has no shortage of accommodation, from the Sandrock Holiday Hostel in Malin Head (cash only – no cards) to the four-star Redcastle Hotel in Moville.

What do I Need to Bring?

A proper coat that can protect you from those Atlantic winds with warm layers underneath. A flask of warm soup or tea would make the time pass that bit easier while waiting in the cold, too.

Don’t be a Light Polluter

Be aware of other aurora seekers and turn your lights off outside and inside your car. It’s not uncommon for people to leave their car engine running so they can shelter from the wind. Keep the use of torches to a minimum and dim the illumination on your phone so your eyes can adjust more easily to the natural light.

How do I get there?

The best way is by car. Malin Head is over four hours from Dublin, over four-and-a-half from Galway and over six hours from Cork. The fastest route from the east coast or from the south to Inishowen will take you into Northern Ireland via Antrim and Derry or via Tyrone and Derry, so either bring some sterling or have a bank card that will work in the North in case of emergencies.


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