Star Wars filming behind ‘incidents’ on Skellig Michael

OPW confirms repairs required after Disney Lucasfilm’s use of Unesco world heritage site

The Office of Public Works (OPW) has confirmed that “incidents” occurred on Skellig Michael during Star Wars filming last week that required “repairs” by its stonemason staff.

It has also confirmed that Disney Lucasfilm was not charged any "facility fee" either last year or this year for its use of the Unesco world heritage site for sequences in Star Wars VII and Star Wars VIII.

An Taisce said it had photographic evidence, taken before and after filming ended just over a week ago, which showed fresh repair work to the entrance to the island’s monastery.

In addition, up to eight steps, including several above Christ’s Saddle, were dislodged at the site, which dates from the 6th to 8th century, according to the environmental organisation.


An Taisce said it had received confirmation that Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys did not approve the Star Wars filming under section 14 of the National Monuments Act, which relates to a range of potential impacts to a monument.

Had her department done so, it would have required the consent from the director of the National Museum of Ireland under section 14 of the Act, which also imposed a "very low threshold" on impact on the monument, An Taisce said.

The OPW confirmed to The Irish Times that a number of steps leading to the monastery, including a series above Christ’s Saddle, were “addressed by OPW staff on site in recent days”.

“This is an entirely normal procedure and does not involve the introduction of new material but rather involves the ‘tightening’ of steps which may have loosened, re-using the dislodged material.”

It said that dislodging could be caused by “nesting birds” or the “passage of human feet” at any time, and that repairs were “normal” and “necessary” during and at the end of the visitor season.

It said the monastery entrance was damaged in mid-June during visits by tourists and was repaired.

“ The same material was again inadvertently dislodged during the days of filming and, in accordance with protocols, the incident was reported to the monitoring OPW staff.

“The entrance was immediately protected and access was curtailed while the repair was carried out,”the OPW said, stating the work took its staff about one and a half hours.

It said “exceptional costs” by its resident stonemasons were not accrued, as the damage took place mid-morning on Thursday, September 17th, during the filming schedule, and there were no materials costs.

An Taisce chairman Charles Stanley-Smith said the images supplied to it, and its own observations and photographic records, “raise a lot of questions as to the nature of the damage incurred”.

‘Continued concerns’

An Taisce vice-chair Attracta Uí Bhroin said the organisation had continued concerns about two issues - “the protected ecology and archaeology and . . . accountability and transparency in the decision-making on a matter of such significant public interest.”

Solicitor Dr Fred Logue, acting for An Taisce, said the failure of the Minister and her department to provide "reasonable information on the proposed filming activities" at a national monument and world heritage site was "simply breathtaking" .

Disney Lucasfilm did not respond to a request for comment.

Concerns were expressed by An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland, cinematographer Chris O'Dell and a group of archaeologists and academics led by UCC lecturer John Sheehan about the decision to permit filming for Star Wars on Skellig Michael for the second year in a row.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said a report was being compiled on the impact of filming, but National Parks and Wildlife Service division manager Dr Philip Buckley had "confirmed to the Minister that there were no issues from an ecological and habitats standpoint".

Fáilte Ireland and local tourism industries welcomed the filming, and Ms Humphreys said the return of Star Wars filming was "another win for Ireland and the Irish film industry, which is a growing and dynamic sector of our economy".

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

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