Skellig Michael will remain closed this summer due to Covid-19

Local boat operators express disappointment at OPW decision

The Office of Public Works has confirmed it will not re-open the Skellig Michael UNESCO World Heritage Site for the remainder of the 2020 tourist season due to concerns over Covid-19 and the consequent risk to visitors and boat operators.

The decision was greeted with disappointment by local boat operators in Portmagee and surrounding villages in South Kerry who are heavily dependent on trips to the Skelligs which has grown in popularity as a visitor site since featuring in two of the most recent Star Wars movies.

Donal McCrohan, chairman of the Skelligs Boatmen's Association, which represents 15 licensed operators in Portmagee, Ballinskelligs and Derrynane, told The Irish Times the OPW decision not to re-open was a disappointment even though it was not entirely a surprise.

“It’s disappointing but to be fair we knew the OPW were completing an assessment and there was nothing guaranteed that the OPW would reverse the decision it made earlier to close for the opening months of the season which starts in mid-May,” said Mr McCrohan.


“We would have all preferred if the Skelligs did re-open even though realistically it would probably have been the middle of August which leaves us with a very short window because the season normally finishes at the end of September and September is quiet once the kids go back to school.

“There are a few operators doing sea angling trips but the landing trips (on to Skellig Michael) are the bread and butter for most of us - we would have liked to get going ahead but it is what it and this is the outcome and I suppose we just have to look forward to 2021 and come back with a bang.”

The OPW announced in early May it was closing the 218 metre high Skellig Michael as a visitor attraction due to concerns over Covid-19 but promised to review the decision as circumstances changed and some lockdown measures were relaxed to allow tourist sites re-open.

On Thursday the OPW explained it had taken the decision not to re-open the island 12kms off the Kerry coast on the basis the risks involved in both the boat voyage and the visitor experience on the island itself could not be addressed sufficiently to guarantee the safety of both visitors and OPW staff.

OPW Heritage Commissioner, John McMahon said: "The opening of this important heritage site, home to one of the earliest monastic settlements in Ireland, had originally been scheduled to take place on 15 May but that was obviously cancelled during the height of the lockdown.

“What we are announcing this week is the result of our own internal review which was designed to see if things had changed sufficiently for us to perhaps announce a late season and allow public visits during part of August and September at least.

“Having considered all the issues however, we have concluded that this is not feasible and Skellig Michael cannot be made safe from Covid-19 for either visitors or staff. Regretfully therefore, we have to confirm the Skellig Michael site will not reopen for the remainder of the 2020 season.”

Mr McMahon said that the OPW had assessed that there were multiple risks involved both in terms of the boat trip and the visitor path on the island itself and it was not feasible to reopen for even a limited period in August and September.

He pointed out that the OPW had consulted with local boatmen and investigated with them the possible changes that might be made in order to make the visitor experience safer but it was clear the scale of the challenge was such that re-opening for August and September was not feasible.

He said that OPW workmen are currently travelling to the island to carry out essential maintenance and other works on the island and its monuments and will continue to do so with a view to the site re-opening for visits in 2021.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times