Air Corps flies restoration materials to Skellig Michael

Seven tonnes of stone slabs flown from Valentia Island to 7th-century monastic site

The Skellig Islands have been made available for a film production shoot, rumoured to be the next Star Wars film. The Irish Times got access to Skellig Michael for a special delivery earlier this year. Video: David Sleator


The Air Corps has flown restoration materials by helicopter to Skellig Michael, off the Kerry coast, for the third time, a month before the Unesco World Heritage site opens for its visiting season.

Over seven tonnes of stone slabs underslung an Agusta- Westland AW139 helicopter that flew from Valentia Island to the seventh-century monastic site at Skellig Michael earlier this month at the request of the Office of Public Works (OPW).

Air Corps helicopter handling teams were deployed at both Valentia and Skellig Michael to support the transfer, along with refuelling staff on Valentia.

The slabs will be used to cap the monastic rock’s lighthouse wall where original stone had been lost and repaired with “unsuitable mass concrete”, the OPW said.

Much of the focus of the restoration/conservation work by the OPW on Skellig Michael is on the lower lighthouse road and platform.

The State body says it is also working with Birdwatch Ireland to ensure preservation of nesting sites, particularly for storm petrels.

The OPW says that its works programme on the monastery, the hermitage on the South Peak and other monastic structures has “come to a close”.

That conservation programme has been the subject of some controversy, with Unesco reporting in 2007 that “well argued and supported criticism” had been made about the extent of work on the rock’s “dramatic hermitage”.

Connemara-based archaeologist Michael Gibbons had stated that some key features had been either constructed or removed over a seven-year period, and there is no data on the disappearance of St Michael’s holy well, the removal of an altar from the main oratory and the removal of five sets of stairs from the main monastery.

In its 2007 report, Unesco noted that the conservation works had “dramatically” transformed the appearance of remains on the South Peak, but it said that they were “justifiable” and that the “outstanding universal values” remained intact at the site.

Unesco recommended that a site manager be appointed, that conservation work be documented in an academic publication, and that a “durable agreement” be negotiated with the Skellig ferry operators.

No data
Two years ago, Minister for Heritage Jimmy Deenihan had moved to meet Unesco recommendations by publishing a report on 24 years of excavations at the monastic complex.

He promised a “series “of reports on the final results of the architectural, historical, archaeological and engineering works carried out there.

However, Mr Gibbons says that there is still no data published about the scale of OPW interventions, and that there is no published record of what is “imaginary, conjectural or original” at the heritage site.

Skellig Michael made it to the Unesco World Heritage list in 1996.

The rock’s visitor season has been reduced on foot of recommendations of a safety review, after two American tourists lost their lives on the rock in 2009, in separate incidents.