Astronomers from the Armagh Observatory and the Irish Astronomical Association (IAA), and archaeologists from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), are joining forces on Thursday 21st June, the summer solstice (BST), for a day of fascinating and participative education and learning activities at Beaghmore Stone Circles, County Tyrone. The summer solstice marks the longest day of the year, and this year’s event follows the highly successful series of activities provided at this important Bronze-Age site last January as part of the BBC’s “Stargazing LIVE” programme. Everyone is welcome to this event, which will showcase not just the astronomical alignments that are built into the site but also its puzzling archaeology and how these bits of the jigsaw fit into our understanding of the physical and historic landscape surrounding the site’s construction more than 4,000 years ago.
In the morning, several schools have been invited to participate in archaeological and astronomical activities between 10:30 and 14:00. Children and their teachers will hear how the Bronze-age people who built the stone circles and rows might have lived and how they constructed the stone circles. The children will learn how to make a stone circle and have a go at making a clay pot. They will also learn about the stars, planets and Seasons, and why the summer solstice is the longest day of the year.
The astronomers participating in this morning session are supporting a new education and public outreach programme called European Universe Awareness (EU-UNAWE). This programme, which involves scientists in five European countries and South Africa, is funded through the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement 263325. It is directed mainly at young and disadvantaged children with the important aim of using the beauty and grandeur of the Universe to encourage them to have an interest in science and technology and a sense of global citizenship from the earliest age.
In the long term, EU-UNAWE will help to produce the next generation of engineers and scientists and raise awareness that we are all part of a much larger global and space-based European community. Universe Awareness (UNAWE) was founded five years ago and is already active in more than 40 countries comprising a network of almost 500 astronomers, teachers and educators worldwide.
Later in the day, from 16:00 to 20:00 this free event is open to adults and families. Here, they will have the opportunity to participate in astro-archaeological tours at 17:00 and 19:00, led by NIEA archaeologist Claire Foley and astronomer Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory. Weather permitting, visitors will also have a chance, courtesy of members of the Irish Astronomical Association, to obtain a safe view of the Sun through special astronomical telescopes and, under the supervision of NIEA archaeologists, to participate in a real research survey into the surrounding peat bog to see if further stones can be identified by "bog probing".
The Beaghmore Stone Circle complex, County Tyrone, is located roughly halfway between Cookstown and Omagh, close to An Creagán and approximately an hour’s drive from either Armagh or Belfast. It is one of the most important stone-circle sites on the island of Ireland and discovered less than a hundred years ago during peat cutting in the 1940s and 1950s. There are three pairs of open stone circles and a single in-filled one built of quite low stones, and each circle is associated with a double alignment or "stone row" pointing roughly in the direction of midsummer sunrise or midwinter sunset. The combination of circles and alignments at Beaghmore is matched at other sites in Northern Ireland, and many, but by no means all, appear to have been designed as pointers to parts of the horizon that saw the rising or setting of the Sun or Moon.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Libby McKearney at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3751-2967; 028-3752-2928; lmkarm.ac.uk.
1. Beaghmore Stone Circles - A large, impressive series of ceremonial stone monuments dating to the Bronze age (2,500–500 BC). The site is in State Care, managed and cared for by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. The site was excavated from the surrounding bog between 1945 and 1949 and again in 1965. The main features are the six stone circles (built of fairly small stones) occurring in pairs, with twelve small cairns which held cremation burials and stone rows all running in parallel suggesting a master plan.
Location: 8.5 miles (13.6 km) North-West of Cookstown, on the South-East fringes of the Sperrin Mountains, reached by minor roads north from the A505 Omagh road through Dunnamore, or from Draperstown South-West by the Six Towns road.
2. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) is an Agency within the Department of the Environment with approximately 800 staff. It takes the lead in advising on, and in implementing, the Government's environmental policy and strategy in Northern Ireland, carrying out a range of activities which promote the Government's key themes of sustainable development, biodiversity and climate change.
Our aim is to protect, conserve and promote the natural environment and built heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. Our vision is that we will have a healthy and well-protected environment and heritage in Northern Ireland that contributes to the social and economic wellbeing of the whole community.
3. The Armagh Observatory is a modern astronomical research institute with a rich heritage. Founded in 1789 by Archbishop Richard Robinson, the Observatory is one of the UK and Ireland's leading scientific research establishments. Around 30 astronomers are actively studying Stellar Astrophysics, the Sun, Solar System astronomy, and the Earth's climate. The Observatory is funded by major grants from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for Northern Ireland and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council. Our aim is to advance the knowledge and understanding of astronomy and related sciences through the execution, promotion and dissemination of astronomical research nationally and internationally in order to enrich the intellectual, economic, social and cultural life of the community.
4. The Irish Astronomical Association was formed in 1974 and draws its over 200 members from both the UK and Ireland. The IAA membership ranges from complete beginners to accomplished observers and astrophotographers.
5. An Creagán is a superb site with a range of facilities and activities for families, couples, individuals, corporate and groups. This fascinating building, designed to reflect the archaeology sites in the region, is nestled in a quaint and tranquil setting. Located on the A505, mid way between the historic town of Omagh and the market town of Cookstown at the foothills of the majestic Sperrin Mountains.
6. Bog probing is the search for stones buried beneath the bog by probing the ground with bamboo canes.