Star Wars filming may return to Skellig Michael

Irish Film Board refuses to deny discussions on use of Unesco world heritage site in film

Skellig Michael.  Star Wars filming may return to the Skelligs this year, following last summer’s controversial use of the Unesco world heritage site. Photograph: David Sleator

Skellig Michael. Star Wars filming may return to the Skelligs this year, following last summer’s controversial use of the Unesco world heritage site. Photograph: David Sleator

 

Star Wars may return to Skellig Michael this autumn, following last summer’s controversial use of the Unesco world heritage site as a film set.

The Irish Film Board has refused to confirm or deny that it is in negotiations with Disney Lucasfilm on the company’s return, but a production team visited the monastic rock off the Kerry coast several weeks ago.

It is understood that ecologists have been employed to conduct a study and monitor the impact of production throughout the season as part of access conditions, given the fragile nature of the national monument, which is rich in archaeology and birdlife.

Last summer, State resources, including a Naval Service patrol ship for security and an Air Corps helicopter for reconnaissance, were put at the disposal of Disney Lucasfilm for a two-day shoot on Skellig Michael.

It will feature in the latest episode of Star Wars, The Force Awakens, which is due for release in December.

Restrictions

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) only became aware of the filming late in the day, and imposed an environmental impact statement that resulted in some restrictions to protect nests of Manx shearwaters and storm petrels.

Fears were expressed by archaeologists, including Michael Gibbons, and early Christian specialist Dr Niamh Whitfield, while Birdwatch Ireland senior conservation officer for seabirds Dr Steven Newton asked why filming had been permitted during nesting season.

During one reconnaissance helicopter flight last June in advance of filming, kittiwake chicks in nests on a ledge were swept into the sea by the downdraught and devoured by gulls.

This resulted in flights being curtailed. Skellig boatmen transported gear, and were compensated financially while the island was closed to visitors.

Unesco, which was not notified in advance of the filming, sought a report from Government.

In a statement last August, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys said that “through collaborative engagement with the film company, we managed to tailor the project to ensure that filming could take place without adverse impacts on the bird population”.

Severe pressure

However, correspondence released under Freedom of Information legislation to the Irish Examiner last autumn revealed that Frank Shalvey, principal officer in the National Monuments section, had come under severe pressure to sign a location agreement in spite of his concerns.

Disney Lucasfilm was unavailable for comment.