Belfast man announced as runner-up in ‘Reach for the Stars’ astrophotography competition

Ciarán P. O’Donnell, from Newtownabbey, Belfast, Co. Antrim, has been announced as one of two runners-up in the inaugural ‘Reach for the Stars’ astrophotography competition run by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

His image ‘Cygnus Mosaic in Hubble Palette’ was photographed from Newtownabbey, Belfast and depicts a mosaic of the Cygnus Constellation, which covers an area of the sky the same width as 40 full moons. Mr. O’Donnell was selected as a runner-up by an expert judging panel following a rigorous judging process of over 180 entries. 

Josh Mathews, from Moyard, Co. Galway was selected as the overall winner of the competition, for his image ‘To the Waters and the Wild’, while Tom O’Hanlon from Tullamore, Co. Offaly was also announced as a runner-up, for his submission, ‘North Star Jesuit House’.

Josh Mathews, To the Waters and the Wild
Josh Mathews, To the Waters and the Wild

Feedback from the Judges

Commenting on the top three entries, Professor Peter Gallagher, Head of Astrophysics at DIAS and a member of the judging panel for ‘Reach for the Stars’, said: “The standard of entries to the competition was excellent, and the judging panel had a very difficult job making our final selection. The chosen images showcase a variety of striking and impressive astronomy scenes, and capture the talent of astrophotographers in Ireland.”

Tom O'Hanlon, North Star Jesuit House
Tom O’Hanlon, North Star Jesuit House

Brenda Fitzsimons, Picture Editor of The Irish Times and a member of the judging panel, said: “I’m simply in awe of the talent, perseverance and technical ability applied to accomplish these wonderful images. The winning photographs are not only astonishingly beautiful and a well-balanced images,  but are perfectly executed. It is evident that the photographers have immense technical knowledge and patience.”

Fellow judge Martina Quinn, Managing Director of competition sponsors Alice PR & Events, remarked on how the Irish landscape provided a striking backdrop for the astro-photographs.

“It was fantastic to see people’s creativity in capturing beautiful Irish landscapes whilst also showcasing astronomical features to stunning effect,” she said. “From Neolithic tombs to beaches and urban parks, there were entries from all corners of the country. It was also great to see such variety in the range of skill and creativity – from professional photographers and seasoned astronomers to people with an interest in astronomy or photography just as a hobby. The competition certainly captured people’s imaginations, which is what it was all about.”

Speaking about the entries overall, John Flannery, Vice-President of the Irish Astronomical Society and a member of the judging panel, added: “I was blown away by the entries to the competition – the level of skill, imagination and creativity shown. Many of the images captured very complex astronomical features that are extremely difficult to photograph, and require great skill and patience. It is great to see such interest in astronomy from both amateur and experienced photographers and astronomers across the country.”


A selection of the judges’ top-rated images in the ‘Reach for the Stars’ competition – including Ciarán P. O’Donnell’s entry – is now available to view in an online exhibition on the DIAS website, An outdoor exhibition at DIAS’s premises on Burlington Road in Dublin is planned for the coming weeks, followed – later in the summer – by an exhibition at DIAS Dunsink Observatory.

DIAS as a leader in astronomy

Commenting on the success of the competition, Dr. Eucharia Meehan, CEO and Registrar of DIAS, said: “I would like to congratulate the winners of the competition on their achievements, and thank them and indeed all entrants for sharing their creativity with us.

“This competition builds on DIAS’s – and Ireland’s – proud astronomical heritage. DIAS Dunsink Observatory is one of Ireland’s most important scientific sites and has been recognised by the European Physical Society as a ‘site of historical significance’. We hope that the competition has inspired people to explore astronomy and astrophotography, and encouraged them to look up into the night sky and appreciate its beauty.”

DIAS’s ‘Reach for the Stars’ competition is being run in partnership with The Irish Times and is sponsored by Alice PR & Events. The Irish Astronomical Society are initiative supporters.

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