West of Ireland experiences ‘almost total ’ solar eclipse

Galway Bay’s clear skies drew hundreds of spectators for the astronomical event

The west was "close to best" for the "almost total" solar eclipse, with clear skies drawing hundreds of spectators out to the shoreline of Galway Bay.

Many clutched pinhole projectors or special glasses as large but accommodating clouds parted to reveal the moon gliding over the face of the sun.

Others ignored advice not to look at the sun directly with the naked eye, or reversed mobile phone cameras to take “selfies” in spite of warnings about the risks.

Several hardy sea swimmers set their sights firmly on low water, as they decided to brave a receding tide to mark the occasion, while international students took to the roof of the Galway Business School for a gull's eye view of the horizon - and of the minor traffic chaos on the seafront caused by distracted drivers.


Over at NUI Galway’s Quadrangle, up to 500 students, staff and passersby also gathered from 9 am where members of the university’s astronomy society had set up a solar telescope on the NUIG president’s lawn.

Some 100 sets of “solar shades” provided by the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies were all snapped up within the first 15 minutes, according to “Astrosoc” auditor Laura Boyle, who was delighted with the public interest.

Ms Boyle said she was “blown away” by the spectacle.

“We were lucky to have such good conditions, with clear skies for about 80 per cent of the time, and we had about 93 per cent coverage of the sun’s face at peak.

“When the clouds rolled in towards the end, it was, as one of my colleagues noted, a typical Irish finish!”

‘Brilliant and bittersweet’

For Prof Andy Shearer of NUIG's Centre for Astronomy, it was both "brilliant" and a bittersweet occasion.

Prof Shearer was just 10-years-old when he saw his first solar eclipse in Essex, England, and he believes the experience won him over to the joys of physics.

His second was in 1999, but the professor said that this third surpassed them all.

"We probably had the best weather in Ireland for this, and it was a wonderful Galway event," Prof Shearer said, expressing delight at the numbers who had turned out to witness it.

However, the “bittersweet” dimension for him was the fact that research funding for astronomy has been cut to “zero” in Ireland for the past three years.

“So you see this massive public interest, at a time when not one Irish astronomer has got research grant-aid,” Prof Shearer said.

“It means we can’t conduct research into eclipses like this, and any finance we do receive has to have an industry buy-in.

“It is a very short-sighted approach, given Ireland’s record in this area of science.”

Further north at the tip-top of Mayo, where the eclipse promised to be deeper, skies were overcast for most of the morning, but there were clearer conditions around parts of Clew Bay.

“We had to use our imagination, and at least we have our eyesight intact,”one Erris fisherman told The Irish Times.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times