Bad weather postpones opening of Skellig Michael

Boats travelling to medieval site fully booked as Star Wars filming attracts more visitors

The cast of hit movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens describe filming on location on Skellig Michael, located off the Kerry coast. Video: Tourism Ireland

 

Bad weather has led to the postponement of the official opening of Skellig Michael, the Unesco world heritage site off the coast of Kerry this Sunday.

However, the weather is not dampening the “Star Warsation” of the medieval Christian monastic site.

Boats from Portmagee were fully booked and they are heavily booked through to next October with huge American interest this year.

The jagged “rock” as it is known locally from the Norse name, is a 11.6 km distance across rough seas and rises to 218 metres above the Atlantic with a cluster of beehive huts.

It was used in the opening scenes of Kenneth Clarke’s series Civilisation in 1969 and in as an example of a cultural outpost, a repository of civilization, a seedbed for the survival of the west.

An OPW management plan drawn up in 2008 suggested a cap of visitor numbers at around 11,100.

Last year, before the season closed there were 13,500 visitors to the fragile island.

There is little doubt the filming of Star Wars on the island – in 2014 and 2015- coupled with a vigorous Tourism Ireland campaign is seeing unprecedented demand for access .

The focus on the island has been intense. A major rock fall, for the second year in succession, led to fears the opening would have to be put back.

The OPW insists these two biggest rock falls in forty years were due to weather, rabbits and probably birds burrowing into the dry rock and not Star Wars filming or visitor numbers .

In the end it was the weather that did it this weekend.

Skellig boatmen have long campaigned to have the season pushed back last from April to October.

“The weather is the key thing,” according to Patrick Murphy on Thursday.

Mr Murphy is one of 15 independent boatmen under a new open competition permitted by the OPW to land passengers on Skellig Michael between May 14th and October 2nd.

Meanwhile the ‘Skellig walker,’ built on nearby Valentia Island, has been opened.

Built by local boat builder Fionán Murphy, one of the new permit holders, it has outside and inside accommodation and like others he is permitted to carry 12 passengers onto the island.

The “pull” or the force of Star Wars is obvious Fionán says.

“ A lot of Americans are ringing and getting in touch. There is absolutely more interest because of Star Wars.”