Dunsink Lane, Dublin 15, D15 XR2R

An Interview with John Flannery and Val Dunne of the Irish Astronomical Society

Interview with John Flannery and Val Dunne of the Irish Astronomical Society (IAS), our volunteering partners at DIAS Dunsink Observatory

A cyclist at the Moon Cycle observing the Moon through an IAS telescope. (Credit: Mark Stedman)

John Flannery and Val Dunne are members of the Irish Astronomical Society (IAS). Val is the Treasurer of the IAS and John is the Editor of “Orbit”, the quarterly magazine. Val and John recently volunteered at the annual Moon Cycle observing at Dunsink Observatory which ran from Dublin City out to DIAS Dunsink Observatory. I spoke with them in the Hamiltonian Room at the start of our Citizen Science Season which starts in September.

As part of their annual activities the IAS gives talks in town and other venues and have monthly meetings. They are very involved in practicing Citizen Science by having sidewalk public viewing sessions (for further information click here) once a month from September through to May, held on a Friday night in Sandymount and Saturday night in Clontarf in the car parks near the Martello Towers. They also do class visits to many schools. The IAS bring their telescopes to all of the events that they run and go to including events at Dunsink Observatory, to show the public the different phenomena of the night sky.

In November the IAS will hold their second Astrophotography Exhibition in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin. They previously held an exhibition in February 2016, free of charge as are all of their events, which was very popular with up to 8,000 visitors. This Astrophotography Exhibition travelled to Belfast, Bunclody, Dun Laoghaire and Charleville Castle.

John Flannery (IAS) observing the Moon during Heritage Week. (Credit: Qi Qi Kennedy)

Ireland has a rich history of astronomy dating back to Newgrange, Birr Castle with the Leviathan Telescope and Dunsink and Armagh Observatories. For more information on the many other modern observatories please look at the Irish Astronomy Trail. We are very privileged in Ireland to have 2 dark sky parks in the west coast of Ireland in Kerry and Mayo. The IAS is very passionate about the conservation of our dark skies. There are many different groups carrying out public outreach and education and bringing the wonders of the sky to the public through the many societies in Ireland. Ireland’s recent membership of the European Southern Observatory will inspire the next generation of astronomers as well as benefiting the wider community.

John Flannery (IAS) explaining how the coelostat works during Heritage Week at Dunsink. (Credit: Qi Qi Kennedy)

When the IAS was founded in 1937 nobody at the time could have envisaged the Space Age as we know it today and we have many more future developments to look forward to. The IAS has had many members over the years, including two founding members who are still honorary members to this day. The general interest in astronomy is huge within Ireland due to our vibrant culture and this gives us our fascination with the sky and our interest in discovering more. The brief of the IAS has always been to educate, inform and discuss what’s going on in inner and outer space, technological developments, possible projects for schoolchildren and always to give advice to the beginners about buying equipment and observing as they take their first steps with the hobby of astronomy.

Full Moon taken with the Observatory’s 104mm TeleVue refractor at Dunsink Observatory. (Credit: John Flannery)

The IAS’ history with Dunsink Observatory goes back to the 70s when committee meetings and public lectures were held in Dunsink Observatory at that time, but since then they have broadened their programme. The society’s magazine “Orbit” was printed in Dunsink Observatory at that time. Professor Patrick Wayman who was Director of the Observatory (1964 – 1998) invited the society to help out at public nights and that legacy has continued to today. William Dumpleton who was a Research Technician in Dunsink Observatory at that time was a great friend to the society. The IAS have continued to be involved with Dunsink Observatory by helping out and giving talks at events. The IAS promote social interaction through their many events. One of these events, called “Stars, Comets and Mince Pies”, is held at Dunsink and there is a roaring fire, talks, a quiz and the time for people being able to rekindle their love for astronomy. Last December 2017, Emer Reynolds, the director of “The Farthest”, an amazing film about The Voyager spacecraft, spoke at Dunsink.

John and Val say that experiencing the joy and enthusiasm of both the public, young scientists and other members of the IFAS drives them to continue to do this voluntary work. They enjoy meeting up with and sharing information and advice with people who share their interests in space and astronomy.

Reported by our volunteer blogger Qi Qi Kennedy of DCU.