Skellig Michael visitor season to open after ‘major’ rockfall

Risk to visitors from further rockfalls has passed, says OPW

Skellig Michael's visiting season will open on Sunday, a day later than planned, due to a "major " rockfall on the Unesco world heritage site earlier this week.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) said work by its staff to ensure safety of visitors and guides has delayed the opening of the Kerry island by one day.

Severe weather over the past three years which has affected growth on the slopes surrounding the island’s 6th century monastic site is believed to have contributed to several rock falls earlier this week.

Skellig Michael is expected to have one of its busiests seasons in years, if weather permits, after Disney Lucasfilm was offered it as a set for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens in 2014 and 2015.


No location fee was charged, and Tourism Ireland paid Disney Lucasfilm €25,000 to make a promotional video for it on the island.

Meanwhile, filming is continuing this weekend at Malin Head for the next episode of the Star Wars series.

Stars, including Mark Hamill who plays Luke Skywalker in the franchise, were photographed arriving at Belfast International Airport on Friday Morning before they made the journey to the film location in Co Donegal.

Security is tight in the area, with only one country road leading to the location and access for eager fans closely guarded by teams of security.

Donegal County Council is overseeing road closures on the Malin Head loop from 8am each morning until 9pm at night from tomorrow until Sunday.

As in Co Donegal, filming at Skellig Michael was welcomed by local tourism interests. However, the manner in which the government approved permission for its use on the monastic island was criticised by Kerry poet Paddy Bushe at a recent Aosdána assembly.

Mr Bushe and artist Imogen Stuart received unanimous support for their motion calling on the incoming Government to ensure heritage sites in the care of the State are treated "primarily as places to be preserved with their character intact for the public and for future generations, and not as commodities for commercial exploitation" .

The OPW said it has conducted engineering and technical assessments in vulnerable areas, and believes that the risk to visitors from futher rockfalls has “passed”.

It will “continue to monitor the situation” with advisers, and it may have to close the island at short notice if an identifiable risk arises.

Barring more rockfalls, the island will remain open to the public until October 2nd.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times