Getting Started - Coming Together
In 1986, Halley's Comet was visible in the skies after a 76 year spell in the outer reaches of the Solar System. Due to the interest in this, TAS was founded by a group of friends and enthusiasts, with an interest in promoting Astronomy and allied subjects. Soon after in 1987, they began holding public meetings once a month in Tullamore, with a growing membership each year that passed. It has been in continuous existence ever since, and is one of the oldest amateur clubs in Ireland.
By 1989, some members pooled together resources and built a 6 inch reflecting telescope. You might have seen it as the small blue tube on a wooden tripod. It didn't look like much, but it was hand-built, and offered members their first glimpses at Saturn, the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, and many other objects up close and in detail.
From this time, meetings turned from monthly into fortnightly, and this brought about the introduction of the TAS Newsletter, the formation of the first Junior Section of any astronomy club in Ireland, and plans for the building of an observatory.
1990 saw Sir Patrick Moore paid a visit to Birr. Members of TAS went to meet him, where he was given a box of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey by Sean Robbins (left) on behalf of the club as a token for his contribution to astronomy. In 1991, TAS held its first daytrip when 25 members took part in a trip to Newgrange and Knowth passage tombs.
One of TAS's founding members, Sean McKenna, who is a radio enthusiast, built Ireland's first amateur Radio Telescope in 1991. With it, he could pick up meteor bursts, and the wave-like motion of radio interference brought about by the interaction of Jupiter and its moon Io.
It's 'Party' Time
In 1992, the introduction of Ireland's second star party, the Irish Astrofest took place. This was created in conjunction with the Irish Astronomical Society, and was held in Tullamore. You can see a list of past renowned speakers in the Star Parties section. It successfully became an annual event, with the current name of COSMOS. Also, the passing of Comet Swift-Tuttle brought about a peak in the Perseids Meteor Shower. TAS held a Star-B-Q on land given loan to it which eventually was to become "The Site" of its observatory. The success of the first Perseids Star-B-Q led TAS to have it as an annual event (only when the weather allowed!). Each year, this takes place on the weekend closest to the Perseids maximum, August 12th.
By 1993, the success of the Irish Astrofest and the Perseids Star-B-Q began to drive TAS into getting ideas together for a proposed observatory and a bigger telescope. Various fund raisers were held - supermarket collections, shopping centre displays and collections, paid memberships, and above all the most ambitious project ever taken by an astronomy club in Ireland - a 17 mile sponsored trek along the top of the Slieve Bloom Mountains.
Due to the success of this trek by the members and sponsors involved, enough was raised from this to purchase 1 acre of land, "The Site", 2 miles outside Tullamore - the observatory was landing!
Also during this year, a trip to Armagh Planetarium was organised. Almost 50 people from Tullamore took the 4 hour journey to Armagh!
The following year in 1994, TAS had applied for plans and planning permission for a small observatory, later to be accompanied by a much larger one housing a meeting room and a larger telescope. Permission was granted, but funds only allowed for the development of the site for easier access, and the construction of the small observatory. This was started by the more dedicated members through their own hard work and free time, and was finished in late 1996.
In 1995, due to unfortunate events, the Irish AS had to pull out of the running of the Irish Astrofest. TAS took over the event, and has successfully hosted it solo every since.
In 1997, a more club 'magazine' was introduced. Called Réalta, this bi-monthly magazine continues today in the tradition of keeping members up to date with future club and astronomical events, as well as past news and stories. Sean McKenna continued as editor after putting in all the hard work in the previous years in the TAS Newsletter.
Between all these things happening within the club, it also began its own Outreach Programme. Members of TAS began visiting schools free of charge and give science and astronomy talks to classrooms. Youth centres soon took up on the action, and TAS visits the summer camps each summer. TAS has been invited to give talks to other clubs and organisations, and also to other astronomy clubs throughout Ireland. TAS also invites speakers to come from other clubs throughout the year.
1998 saw the 'official' opening of the TAS Observatory. It now housed the original 6 inch telescope built in 1989. The official opening took place with the renaming of Irish Astrofest to COSMOS in 1998. In 1999, COSMOS was moved from Tullamore town center to the more scenic area of Annaharvey Equestrian Farm, 3 miles outside Tullamore. It attracts many visitors each year, from around Ireland and the UK, and its secluded location allows for unbothered viewing during the nights at COSMOS. It is internationally recognised as Irelands Spring Star Party.
In 2000, TAS was a founding member club with many others in the formation of the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies. This is an umbrella group of all democratic astronomy clubs and societies in Ireland, which currently stands at 15. You can read more about this in the section at left.
Growing Up Fast
In 2002, TAS purchased another 6 inch reflecting telescope for use by members. The current older 6 inch from the observatory is in repair. It also tried to have another Perseids Bar-b-q in August, but unfortunately, this was one of the wettest summers on record, so it didn't go ahead!
During the following 3 years, TAS has continued to go from strength to strength. It still held 2 meetings per month with an addition of Observing Nights too. At the Observing Nights members of the club AND general public are invited to attend FREE OF CHARGE and use the telescopes provided, or bring their own, and look up at the wonders of the Universe.
It has had consecutive Perseid Bar-b-q's, with the one in August 2004 drawing over 40 people on the night, some of whom camped over night in tents! During Cosmos 2005, TAS, in conjunction with the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies, presented a cheque to GOAL as a donation to the Tsunami Relief Fund. It also launched a Children's Art Competition for kids in primary schools in 2005 with some great prizes sponsored by Byrne's World of Wonder, Tullamore. All the winning entries were included in the highly successful TAS 2006 Calendar. Entries were submitted from all over Ireland!
Work continued on the Site, with a massive work day by club volunteers in March 2006, where they laid out the car park, making room for up to 20 cars. Extensive work was also carried out on the lane leading to the Observatory Site, as well as on the Site itself.
For 2006, 6 members went on the IFAS Eclipse Trip to Turkey, and were rewarded with clear skies and one of the best Solar Eclipses in recent years. Cosmos 2006 attracted many from around Ireland, and the lectures calendar continued with new members joining from all over the midlands. It relocated its meeting venue to the Presbyterian Hall in Tullamore, as the previous location, the Order of Malta Training Rooms, had been sold. Today, this is where TAS holds its public meetings, open to the public, young and old alike.
In 2008 a decision was made to change the name of the club to the Midlands Astronomy Club. This was ratified at the 2009 AGM. The change reflects the club's growing membership base now spanning 5 counties. Since then it hosts a Telescope Night for Beginners every January/February as part of its lecture programme, has introduced a free raffle for some Astronomy books at every meeting, grew its library with more up to date books, currently holds 4 telescopes and 3 binoculars, all available for use by members, and continues to host the annual Cosmos Star Party, attracting speakers and visitors from Ireland and Europe.
MAC has had an active constitution, which has only ever been amended 3 times, since 1988. You can view a copy (pdf) here.