Experts query use of Skellig for Star Wars film

Astonishment at State permitting episode to be filmed on world heritage site

Skellig Michael. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Skellig Michael. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

Archaeologist and art historian Dr Niamh Whitfield has said she is “astonished” the State has allowed filming for the latest Star Wars episode on Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast.

Dr Whitfield, one of the world’s leading experts in early Christian art and archaeology, described Skellig Michael as “one of the most fragile, as well as most important” early medieval archaeological sites in western Europe.

“It is unique and, once damaged, is difficult to repair,” she said, echoing the concerns of archaeologist Michael Gibbons and Birdwatch Ireland senior conservation officer for seabirds Dr Steven Newton.

Unesco, which awarded the location world heritage status in 1996, has also made inquiries with the National Monuments Service on the filming.

The 3km (two mile) exclusion zone around Skellig Michael, policed by the Naval Service patrol ship LE Samuel Beckett for the last three days, was due to be lifted last night.

Dr Whitfield said – while she was “accustomed” to State attitudes to heritage in Ireland, as in the building of the M3 motorway through the Tara/Skryne valley and the Kilkenny central access scheme – the approval by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht had to be questioned in the context of the Office of Public Works’ (OPW) own safe access guide to the monastic site.

Dr Whitfield said she would question what professional advice was sought beforehand, what professional guidance was being given on location by conservation archaeologists, and whether a professional independent survey would be conducted afterwards on the impact of filming on the island’s wildlife and archaeology.

Dr Newton, who has said he would have less difficulty if approval had been given for film work outside the breeding season for birds, as originally scheduled, noted yesterday that tents and portaloos were visible on Christ’s Saddle between the island’s two peaks.

‘Extensive scientific analysis’

The Irish Film Board

reiterated that “consent to a limited filming schedule on Skellig Michael was granted after extensive scientific analysis by the National Parks and Wildlife Service” (NPWS).

It was “subject to several agreed conditions and restrictions and is also the subject of a detailed management and mitigation plan and ecological oversight” which included presence of experts from the NPWS on the island, and a senior ecological adviser with the production company.