Skellig Michael and Star Wars

 

Sir, – We write collectively as the contributors to Voices at the World’s Edge: Irish Poets on Skellig Michael, an anthology sponsored by the Office of Public Works to mark the completion of its conservation work on the monastic site of Skellig Michael. All except one of us wrote our pieces after one or two overnight stays on the island as guests of the OPW, to whom the Irish people have entrusted the guardianship of Skellig Michael and other heritage sites. It was an extraordinary privilege for us, and an experience which will remain with us for the rest of our creative lives. The built and natural heritage of the island was and remains a continual revelation. During our various stays on the island, we became aware of the extraordinary dedication and expertise of the OPW staff - guides, stonemasons, archaeological and managerial staff - who have been guardians of the island for many years, and have contributed enormously to making it the valuable tourist attraction that it is today. It is because of this dedication and expertise that Unesco granted the island its world heritage status, and recognises the OPW as its managing body.

We do not propose to comment on the appropriateness of permitting filming for a commercial feature on such a uniquely sacred and environmentally sensitive site, other than to note that the decision contradicts previous OPW practice and policy in relation to the island. Now that filming for Star Wars is for a second time under way, what concerns us most is the future safety of Skellig Michael and other sites in the light of how the permission was granted.

The producers of Star Wars should not have been approached with an offer of Skellig Michael as a location without all the relevant bodies being consulted. We know from Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys’s statement of September 8th, as well as from other sources, that this Star Wars project was negotiated without the involvement or input of the OPW. We know also that neither the Skellig Expert Advisory Group nor the Irish section of the International Council of Monuments and Sites, which concerns itself with world heritage sites, were informed about, much less consulted about, these plans. We are aware that Star Wars works in a culture of secrecy, but we do not think it is appropriate that the government of this independent state buys into the marketing strategy of a Hollywood company at the expense of the proper safeguarding of our heritage. That the Defence Forces were deployed in support of that marketing strategy is demeaning to a modern European country.

We find it deeply disturbing that queries to the OPW, the Wildlife Service, the National Monuments Service and other bodies responsible for the built and natural heritage of Skellig Michael, were being referred to the Irish Film Board, a body which has no responsibility, accountability or expertise in relation any aspect of the guardianship of Skellig Michael. This abdication by the responsible bodies, presumably dictated from above, means that Skellig Michael was not in safe hands, especially not in the safe hands which have guarded it so well for so many years.

Is cuid de oidhreacht anama na tíre seo í Sceilg Mhichíl, agus cuid de oidhreacht anama an domhain freisin, mar atá aitheanta ag UNESCO. Creidimid go bhfuil an t-anam sin gonta de bharr mar a caitheadh leis an oileán san eachtra seo ar fad. Is é an tslí is fearr leis an ngoin sin a chneasú ná deimhniú nach féidir lena leithéid tarlú arís.

We call on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to guarantee that from now on our heritage sites will be managed and guarded with respect and responsibility, in a manner that is open, transparent and accountable. – Yours, etc,

PADDY BUSHE (editor),

Waterville,

Co Kerry;

JOHN F DEANE;

THEO DORGAN;

MARIE HEANEY;

BIDDY JENKINSON;

SEÁN LYSAGHT;

DEREK MAHON;

JOHN MINIHAN

(photographer);

EILEAN

NÍ CHUILLEANÁIN;

NUALA

NÍ DHOMHNAILL;

BERNARD O’DONOGHUE;

CATHAL Ó SEARCAIGH;

MACDARA WOODS.