Visitor access to Skellig Michael could be compromised because of storm damage, the Office for Public Works has said.
Reports of significant winter storm damage to the Unesco World Heritage site Skellig Michael have been received by the OPW.
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 has been damaged. Known as the Lighthouse Road, the steps are where visitors begin their climb to the famous monastic site, it said. A piece of the wall at Cross Cove has also been swept away, it said.
Frank Shalvey from the organisation’s monuments section said repairing the damage is a high priority in a bid to allow visitor access.
“It is going to take time to visit, to assess and rebuild,” he said. “Visitor access could be compromised. We can only allow access where we are certain of the safety of visitors”.
The damage was possibly due to waves during recent storms or as a result of rockfall from the slopes above the road, the OPW said.
It has no information on any damage caused to the monastic site. Because of its height “ it is not expected that there would be the same level of damage at that location as it is not vulnerable to either wave or landslide action” it said.
The OPW will not be able to assess the actual cause of damage until experts from the OPW and Department of Heritage access the site in the coming days.
It says a priority for the inspection team will be to establish the safety implications for visitors this summer given the importance to local tourism.
It is arranging for qualified personnel to land on the island as soon as possible to assess damage.
Recently the OPW announced changes to the ferrying system to the Skellig Michael. The existing arrangements – with a defined group of local boatmen in place since 1994 – will be replaced by a open competition and a more market driven approach.
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.