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Armagh Observatory and Planetarium bidding to become Northern Ireland’s second UNESCO World Heritage site

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Entrance to Armagh Planetarium Photo by Liam McBurney

Entrance to Armagh Planetarium Photo by Liam McBurney

Professor Michael Burton, Director of Armagh Observatory & Planetarium

Professor Michael Burton, Director of Armagh Observatory & Planetarium

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Entrance to Armagh Planetarium Photo by Liam McBurney

The Armagh Observatory and Planetarium is bidding to become Northern Ireland’s latest entry for UNESCO World Heritage status.

The site – based at College Hill in the town – is the longest running planetarium in the British Isles and have submitted the first stage application alongside the Birr and Dunsink observatories in the Republic of Ireland.

Such a status would confer legal protection under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, with awards given to sites with "cultural and natural heritage around the world, considered to be of outstanding value to humanity".

Professor Michael Burton at the observatory said such a status would “support and inspire further collaborative working” within the astronomical community on the island of Ireland.

“World Heritage requires outstanding universal value. A significance so exceptional that is transcends national boundaries,” the director added.

“We believe that our collective astronomical heritage is out of this world and firmly meets the robust criteria needed for this status.

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“Our celestial partnership with Birr and Dunsink has lasted four centuries. Through highlighting these origins along with the developments in astronomy that we have made, both separately and collectively, we believe that we are in a strong position to seek this nomination.

“We believe that achieving World Heritage status will support and inspire further collaborative working with our community, stakeholders and research partners to unlock the opportunities and highlight the outstanding value of our heritage.”

While the modern planetarium site in Armagh was first opened in 1968, the observatory itself was first established in 1790 by Archbishop Robinson.

Among the telescopes that can be seen in Armagh is the Troughton Equatorial which was installed in 1795 and is the oldest telescope in the world still in its original dome.

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Professor Michael Burton, Director of Armagh Observatory & Planetarium

Professor Michael Burton, Director of Armagh Observatory & Planetarium

Professor Michael Burton, Director of Armagh Observatory & Planetarium

The observatory hosts six generations of telescopes, ranging from King George III’s telescopes of 1769 used to measure the Transit of Venus all the way to the Armagh Robotic Telescope of 2010.

Meanwhile the planetarium’s original starball Goto projector pioneered the introduction of the video revolution into planetaria in the 1970’s.

These days, things are slightly more advanced, with the Armagh site utilising a state-of-the art digital projector system providing an immersive experience under the full dome.

“I feel our case for World Heritage is strong and fully supported by Armagh Observatory’s amazing history,” Prof Burton added.

“It encapsulates our desire to keep exploring, asking questions, delving deeper and continuing to play a leading role in influencing humanity’s perceptions about the cosmos.”

If Armagh Observatory and Planetarium is eventually successful, it would mark just the second Northern Ireland landmark with the status.

The Giant’s Causeway was granted the status by the organisation back in 1986.

Other sites with the status across the UK include the likes of Stonehenge, Blenheim Palace near Oxford and the Tower of London.

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ireland the prehistoric site of Bru na Boinne about 40 km north of Dublin is on the list, as well as the island of Skellig Michael, which lies at the extreme north-western edge of Europe and is a spectacular example of an early Medieval island monastic site.


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