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31 October 2020

Our 2020 participants will be announced shortly - make sure to JOIN OUR MAILING LIST for the latest news!


As always, we will try to bring to life the magic of our natural dark skies and how important they are for science, culture and the environment.

"Let us raise children who can name more stars in the sky than stars on the screen"

2019 speakers

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Dr. Robert Thirsk is a Canadian astronaut who has flown on two space missions as a member of the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut corps. He first flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1996 as part of the Life and Microgravity Spacelab Mission. His second flight in 2009 was a six-month expedition aboard the International Space Station. Bob and his crewmates performed multidisciplinary research, robotic operations and maintenance of Station systems.

Bob received degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Calgary and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He also holds a Doctorate of Medicine from McGill University and a Master of Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Bob is a strong promoter of an economy based upon exploration and innovation.  He encourages youth to build their dreams upon a foundation of advanced skills and lifelong learning.


Senior Advisor for Science
and Exploration, ESA

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Prof Mark McCaughrean is the Senior Advisor for Science & Exploration at the European Space Agency. He is also responsible for communicating results from ESA’s astronomy, heliophysics, planetary, exploration, and fundamental physics missions to the scientific community and wider general public. Following a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, he worked at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, followed by astronomical institutes in Tucson, Heidelberg, Bonn, and

Potsdam, and taught as a professor of astrophysics at the University of Exeter before joining ESA in 2009.

His personal scientific research involves observational studies of the formation of stars and their planetary systems, and he is also an Interdisciplinary Scientist for the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope.

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Botanist and Broadcaster

'Wildlife at Night'

Éanna is a botanist by profession having learnt her trade in UCD many moons ago. She was responsible for much of the ground breaking species distribution mapping carried out by An Foras Forbartha in the 1970’s and 80’s. She has been a lecturer in sustainable development in DIT for over twenty years.

She is publicly on the side of the environment as evidenced by her stint as President of An Taisce from 2004-2009 and more recently as President of the Tree Council of Ireland. She is the author of several books including 'Wild Dublin'  and 'Wild Things at School'.

She has been broadcasting on RTE about wildlife since 1988, and has been the mainstay of the Mooney goes Wild programmes since 1995. She has made several Wildlife Radio documentaries including one recorded live in the rainforest in Costa Rica, and just lately one on Rats.  

She currently has a regular wildlife slot on TV3’s Six o Clock show. 


Head of Research CIT and founder member of Blackrock Castle Observatory

Niall Smith has been Head of Research at Cork Institute of Technology since 2005. He is also Principal Scientist at Blackrock Castle Observatory (BCO). The Observatory houses a robotic observatory alongside Ireland’s first interactive science centre based on the theme of Life in the Universe.

Dr. Smith’s research interests include optical searches for extrasolar planets using telescopes on a number of sites in both the northern and southern hemispheres. As a central figure at BCO, he is very interested in encouraging more of the population, young and old, to gain a better insight into the scientific method and its importance to society. He is also a member of the International Astronomical Union.

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Astronomer, Author and Presenter

'Why Astronomy Matters'

Gary Fildes is the founder, former CEO and lead astronomer at the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland.  From a working class background, Gary spent the first 25 years of his working life as a bricklayer, until his secret passion for science and astronomy led him to the SAS (the Sunderland Astronomical Society that is). Since then Gary has used his skills as a communicator to speak to over 300,000 people about the universe around us.

In 2008 Gary opened the Kielder Observatory, one of the world's top visitor attractions in astronomy, regularly selling out events. It has attracted over 250,000 guests through its doors to date.

In 2012 Gary was awarded an Honorary Master’s degree from Durham University and in 2017 an honorary fellowship from Sunderland University.


Gary's first book “An Astronomers Tale - A Bricklayers Guide to the Galaxy”, has sold thousands of copies. In 2019 Gary left the Kielder observatory to head up national and international projects, write his sequel and pursue his dream of taking the message of astronomy to as many people as possible

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Royal Society - SFI University Research Fellow at UCD

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'Black Hole Astronomy'

Dr Niels Warburton researches gravitational waves - the ripples in the fabric of space and time emitted when black holes whirl around each other at substantial fractions of the speed of light. Of particularly interest is the phenomenon where massive black holes, weighing millions of times the mass of our sun, capture a small solar-mass black hole. The gravitational waves emitted by this binary are a key source for the future European Space Agency mission LISA (the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna). Niels is a full member of the LISA Consortium and, together with his group, is working towards developing key models required to squeeze the most science possible out of the data.

In addition to research, Niels is interested in using new technology to bring black hole physics to life. To that end, he recently supervised two PhD students (Philip Lynch and Josh Mathews) in developing a virtual reality black hole experience that will be on show at the festival.


Engineer and Analogue Astronaut

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'Life on Mars(ish)'

Polymath Niamh Shaw combines performance, writing, and her degrees in science and engineering to ignite people's curiosity about planet Earth and our place in it. As Artist in Residence at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, she explores crossovers in STEM, art, space themes & communication to share the human story of science. All of her activities are focussed towards fulfilling her life's work to get to space, to challenge perceptions of ourselves, and of our place in Space.  She has experienced a zero-gravity flight, witnessed live launches & landings of astronaut crews, completed over 20 EVA hrs as analogue astronaut at simulated Mars missions, and has studied & lectured at ISU’s Space Studies Programme. She has spoken at events including WIRED Live UK, Space Rocks (ESA), NASA Johnson Space Centre, Inspirefest, New Scientist (UK), contributes to national science television and radio programming & writes regularly for BBC’s Sky at Night magazine. Niamh is the 2018 co-recipient of 'Outstanding Contribution to STEM Communications' awarded annually by Science Foundation Ireland and recently spoke at Áras an Uachtaráin in response to President Higgins speech celebrating Women in the Sciences on international Women's Day 2019

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Vocal Ensemble

Opening Night Performance

SYSTIR (Icelandic for “sister”) are a vocal ensemble based in Ireland.  The group have grown naturally from the legendary ANÚNA, creating a new and eclectic musical voice for the world of ensemble singing through their exploration of the myriad shades and hues of the female voice.

The singers come from many musical backgrounds bringing their expertise in the genres of classical, rock, traditional and musical theatre together to create a uniquely beautiful sonic experience.

'Designing with light and the genius of place'

Roberto Corradini is an Italian independent Lighting Designer and a registered architect. He lives and works near Venice. His interests are focused on the ways light affects peoples’ environments and creates moods.


Roberto devotes much of his time to the education of young lighting designers. He teaches in architects’ CPD programs and writes in professional magazines. He has also been guest lecturer in Italian Universities and in Singapore, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

He is Creative Manager of Luci in Riviera, the only-one-of-its-kind educational workshop in Italy. When not fighting against light pollution, he likes to travel and capture emotions in watercolour.


Biologist, University of Manchester

Dr Josh Mouland is a circadian biologist at the University of Manchester who studies the effect light has on our internal body clocks. Having graduated as a natural scientist from the University of Cambridge, Josh went on to pursue his passion of neurophysiology at the University of Manchester where he completed his PhD.


He is now pursuing a post doc under the guidance of Dr Tim Brown in the Centre for Biological Timing at Manchester.

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University of Bristol

'Lighting and Bats'

Emma has worked in conservation research for over 20 years.  To date much of this research has taken place in Africa, where she worked as Assistant Research Co-ordinator on the Biodiversity Project in Kafue National Park Zambia and as Project Manager at Munda Wanga Wildlife Park.


During this time she was involved in many different projects from field research and monitoring, to welfare based rehabilitation, education and awareness projects.

Whilst in Zambia, Emma undertook research with a variety of species including birds, butterflies, beetles, reptiles, amphibians, large and small mammals - including bats



Physicist, Science Ireland

'Become a Planet Champion' Workshop

Declan is a physicist and a science communicator with a passion for teaching, research and using the latest technology to enhance education.

He set up Science Ireland in 2001 to develop interactive shows and delivers shows to over 20,000 students per year.

Recently he has developed a space show and is currently creating a show to help students understand how we will stop Climate Change. Declan has also setup the Irish Climate Change Action Group to show everyone the solutions to our current climate crisis and later in the year will be giving talks on the climate issues/solutions to all ages.

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Lego and Robotics Workshop

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Teepee an Seanchaí

A native of Thurles, Co Tipperary, Irish Magician and storyteller/ seanchaí Dan O’Donoghue specializes in close-up magic and entertains at events throughout Ireland and the UK.

As well as being four times All Ireland Champion of Magic, Dan was the first Irish Magician to gain a residency in Las Vegas Casinos, where he entertained celebrities including Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.  Irish Celebrities entertained by Dan include: Leo Varadkar, Michael Ring, Gay Byrne, Gerry Ryan and Dave Fanning.

Dan is also the creator of The Original Ghostwalk of Dublin and The Original Ghostbus Tour of Old Dublin.

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International Space University

Panel Discussion with Dr. Robert Thirsk

Dr. Norah Patten is a faculty member at the International Space University and is a citizen scientist-astronaut candidate with Project PoSSUM. An award winning STEM advocate and ambassador. Norah has participated in several citizen science campaigns including microgravity research flights and spacesuit testing and evaluation. In September 2019, Norah will become a children’s author with the publication of her book ‘Shooting for the Stars' by The O’Brien Press.

Norah was a recipient of the Emerging Space Leaders Grant and a Next Generation Plenary panellist at the International Astronautical Congress in 2015. Through a partnership with NanoRacks, Norah initiated and managed ‘The Only Way is Up’ project which launched Ireland’s first student experiment to the International Space Station in 2014.  Norah participated in the International Space University Space Studies Program in 2010 and holds a PhD in aeronautical engineering. She currently works as the programme manager at the Irish Composites Center (IComp).



Newport Astronomy Club

Níall O'Connor is a physicist and electronics engineer. He is a graduate of and former researcher in the National Centre for Plasma Science and Technology at Dublin University. Here he investigated numerous applications of plasmas, ranging from combatting infectious diseases in hospitals to plasmas for nuclear fusion energy sources.

More recently he has worked in the fields of artificial intelligence and development of vision and ultrasonic systems for autonomous vehicles.

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Lighting Designer and Architect

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Mayo STEAM Network

Lego and Robotics workshop

(suitable for children aged 8-12)

Join Foroige's Mayo STEAM network to explore some engineering, electronic and robotic skills and activities. even try out our banana piano!

Together we will build Circuits, Lego bridges, Towers and Windmills using our engineering brains and creativity. Team challenges and games are all part of the fun.

Each participant will also get the chance to build their own 'Battle Bot' using their new found skills and put them in to action in the arena.  All robots created are yours to take home.


Chairman, Newport Astronomy Club

As a teenager in secondary school, Derek Dempsey became firmly hooked on astronomy by the excitement of the Apollo moon landings and has been reading about the subject and observing the night sky ever since. Derek graduated from the UCD School of Engineering in 1978 and has spent his professional life working in telecommunications – but has always found time for amateur astronomy. He is one of the founder members of the Newport Astronomy Club, motivated in no small part by the Gold Tier accreditation of the Mayo Dark Sky Park in May 2016 by the International Dark Sky Association.

In 2019, Derek was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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Artist and Curator

'Ancient Light'

Melanie King is an artist and curator with a specific focus on astronomy. Melanie is a PhD Candidate at the Royal College of Art.  She is co-Director of super/collider, Lumen Studios and the London Alternative Photography Collective.  She is a lecturer on the MA programme at the Royal College of Art, and on the BA Photography course at University of West London.  Melanie's solo exhibitions include Leeds Art University and the Blyth Gallery, Imperial College London. She has exhibited in group shows at The Photographers' Gallery, Argentea Gallery, Guest Projects, Space Studios and the Sidney Cooper Gallery. Melanie has also exhibited in a wide range of international galleries, such as the Hasselblad Foundation, Sweden, Unseen Amsterdam, the Williamson Gallery in Los Angeles and CAS Gallery in Japan.  Melanie has attended residencies organised by Lay of the Land Ireland, Joya Arte and Ecologica Spain, Bow Arts London, Grizedale Forest and SIM Reykjavik, Iceland.

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Magician and Storyteller with
Terra Firma Ireland

Elizabeth Tray - GMIT and Marine Institu


Research Scientist, Marine Institute

'The Marine Institute Newport: Fish Scale and Otolith Archives'

Elizabeth began working for the Marine Institute (MI) in 2017 on the ‘Unlocking the Archive’ project. The UTA project is a collaborative partnership between the MI and the Marine & Freshwater Research Centre (Galway Mayo Institute of Technology), which aims to create an archive and database of scientific samples, including fish scales and otoliths (ear bones)

After earning her B.Sc. in Ecology and Evolution from Appalachian State University, she worked as an ecologist for United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She obtained her M.Sc. in Environmental Sciences from Trinity College of Dublin, where she focused on sclerochronology and deep-sea corals.  Her talk will feature the long-term ecosystem monitoring projects within Burrishoole, and the UTA project.

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Conservation Biologist & Head Guide in Wild Nephin Ballycroy Nat Park

Nocturnal biodiversity: an exploration of species of the night'

Marina Mulligan is a conservation biologist, currently working as Head Guide in Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park. With a keen interest in environmental education and science communication, she sees the need to bring scientific research to all ages in a way which is easily understood and digestible.


Having studied both marine and terrestrial conservation and zoology, at University College Cork and University of Exeter, Marina’s research interests lie in the use of technology to aid wildlife conservation. Her previous research has included work with Centre National de la  Recherche Scientifque in France looking at the bio-acoustics of birdsong and with Borneo Nature Foundation looking at social behaviours of the Bornean orangutan.  As an advocate for environmental sustainability, she hopes to inspire others of all ages to play a role in tackling biodiversity loss and the climate crisis.

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