A serious rockfall on Skellig Michael, off the Co Kerry coast, which occurred on Monday afternoon may prevent the Unesco World Heritage site from reopening to visitors this weekend.
A large boulder broke free from the slope above the Lighthouse Road on the island at about 4.30 on Monday afternoon and landed in the middle of the roadway. The boulder fell directly on the path normally taken by visitors travelling up to the base of the South Steps leading to the Monastic site at the island’s summit. The large rock is currently blocking access to the road.
The Office of Public Works (OPW) said it was considerably concerned that a second rockfall had occurred following another rockfall incident on the island earlier this year. It warned that both events were “deeply worrying symptoms that the upper slopes above the roadway remain highly unstable and unsafe”.
The OPW said it was clear the rockfall would have “significant consequences” for the planned opening of the site to tourists this weekend.
OPW staff and safety contractors will attempt to scale the slope above the rockfall to assess whether there is a risk of further material falling from above.
Chairman of the OPW Clare McGrath had announced earlier on Monday that the heritage site was set to open to visitors on Saturday, May 14th. Visitor access to Skellig Michael was put into doubt earlier this year following significant storm damage to the site.
A length of wall along the main visitor path which leads from the landing pier to the south steps on the island off the Kerry coast was damaged during stormy weather in March, while a piece of the wall at Cross Cove was also swept away.
Following the storms, OPW staff began repair works to stabilise the upper slopes to prevent further loose material from falling onto the road.
OPW staff will continue working at Skellig Michael in the coming weeks to ensure all repairs have been made to the parts of the island damaged as a result of stormy conditions.
The OPW warned on Monday, ahead of the second rockfall, that there would be certain restrictions on visitors as certain parts of the access route would remain a work site. The group added that some very light material such as dust and soil would continue to shed from the slope immediately above the breached lighthouse wall. The material is very light and does not pose a significant physical threat to visitors, added the OPW.
Last summer scenes for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were filmed on the island.
The Skelligs, an early Christian hermitage and now home to the world’s second largest colony of gannets, was twice opened to Lucasfilm in a controversial decision opposed by some conservationists.