MANY seeing strange shafts of light in the sky on St Patrick’s night may have put it down to a day of drowning the shamrock but their eyes weren’t deceiving them.
Donncha Corrigan took a number of spectacular shots of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, above Castleconnell. The Aurora surrounding the north magnetic pole occurs when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with elements in the earth’s atmosphere. To see it so far south is a once in a life-time opportunity.
But Donncha, who had previously seen the Northern Lights in Iceland, knew what to look for and photograph it.
“I was sitting in the kitchen with my wife, Rhoda, at around 11.30pm when Liam Dutton - the weather forecaster on Channel 4 News - tweeted pictures of it over the UK.
“The Kp-index [global geomagnetic storm index] is how visible the Northern Lights is going to be. That was up around nine - it is very rare that it gets that high.
“It was because there had been a huge solar storm at the weekend. It meant you could see it over southern Ireland,” said Donncha.
He thought it was worth a try to go outside his home, near Herbert’s pub, with his camera and have a look.
“I could see a change in the sky. What you actually see is shafts of white light coming down with a tinge of green.
“You don’t see it as green as you do in the photographs,” said Donncha, who thankfully knew the correct way of taking the perfect photograph from his time in Iceland.
“You have to leave a 20 second exposure and turn up your ISO to get a good picture. It’s a Canon digital SLR - it’s a good camera but not anything out of the ordinary - and I got these lovely photographs,” said Donncha.
He went inside to wake his daughters, Erin, aged 13 and Ava, 10, to share the experience. The whole family then enjoyed the unique moment.
“They were delighted. It is very rare to see it this far south and it was quite high in the sky. Castleconnell is due north of me so the orange you see in the photographs is Castleconnell village and you can see the green above that which is the Aurora. It was unbelievable and particularly on St Patrick’s night,” said Donncha.
In the days prior to March 17 when he knew that conditions might make the Northern Lights visible in Ireland he was even considering travelling further north to see it.
Instead, he was able to do it just outside his own front door.