Skellig Michael opening date in doubt over unstable rocks

OPW says unsteady material has been discovered at the Unesco world heritage site

A significant rockfall at Skellig Michael.  Photograph: Office of Public Works

A significant rockfall at Skellig Michael. Photograph: Office of Public Works

 

Further unstable material and a number of large rocks which are unstable have been discovered on Skellig Michael, the Unesco world heritage site off the coast of Kerry, the Office of Public Works (OPW) has said.

The announcement, which follows the inspection of a major rockfall last week, has cast doubt over the opening date for the visitors’ season.

A team of OPW staff and safety contractor operatives have visited the site to assess the fall, the island’s second major rockfall in two years.

It is expected the crew will remain there for the week.

Winter storms and instablility by rabbits burrowing under the dry rocks are being blamed – rather than filming activity or the extra visitor numbers drawn to the monastic site because of the filming of the Star Wars episodes in 2014 and 2015

The recent fall occurred on a roadway to the work area near the lighthouse, which is away from the main visitor path.

A crew is expected to remain at the site for the week. Photograph: Office of Public Works
A crew is expected to remain at the site for the week. Photograph: Office of Public Works

“On this first examination, it would appear that there is more unstable material still present on the upper slopes and they are currently evaluating this and making an assessment of how to deal with it safely,” the OPW said on Thursday.

Larger rocks

There is still a number of larger rocks and other material which appears dry and friable, and possibly likely to move.

“Options being considered include possibly bringing down this unstable material in a controlled fashion to mitigate the risk of further material shedding in a future displacement.”

The OPW said, at this point, it was not possible to be definitive about the opening date for visitors – scheduled for May 14th – but it remained “cautiously optimistic that it will be achieved”.

“However, this cannot be confirmed absolutely until further work is carried out and the position in relation to the risk of future rockfalls established.”

Visitor numbers to the fragile site, precariously rising over the Atlantic increased by well over 1,000 last year, and the rise in popularity is being attributed locally to the publicity surrounding the filming of scenes for the latest Star Wars movies on the island.

The visitor season on the Skellig closes in October, and by mid-September the official count was already 13,500 people.

To cater for the increased demand, local councillors and boatmen are calling on the OPW to extend the tourist season to include April and October.