Skellig Michael’s star role in ‘Star Wars’


Sir, – Your film critic, Donald Clarke, in an otherwise dismissive review of the latest Star Wars film (Film & Music, December 15th) writes that the “performance” of Skellig Michael, which for some reason he refers to as an “outcrop”, outclasses other “performances” in this “underwhelming” film. This he finds to be “unequivocally justifying the decision to bring Star Wars to Skellig Michael.”

So in one magisterial sweep your critic sweeps aside the concerns of many archaeologists, wildlife experts, writers, artists, heritage authorities, as well as many within the state bodies responsible for the preservation of Skellig Michael, because of the “performance” of the island in a film he finds “more boring than being in church”, lacking “a lucid story” and full of “suffocating self-awareness”.

I cannot comment on his opinion of Star Wars: the Last Jedi, not having yet seen the film.

But I am very familiar with the secrecy and total lack of consultation with which the authorities approached the agreement made with Disney Lucas to film on Skellig Michael, and which has now made Skellig Michael a pilgrimage site for Star Wars fans with little or no interest in the history or heritage of what Donald Clarke crassly refers to as “Star Wars Island”.

Already the annual maximum number of visitors judged by the OPW and Unesco after 10 years of research to be sustainable has been breached, and there is strong commercial pressure being put on the OPW to further breach those limits by allowing more boats, more visitors and a longer season.

Such mass commercial pressures are very different from the sensitive way Skellig Michael has hitherto been managed by the OPW, to the benefit of conservation and tourism alike. Those within that body who are most aware of and engaged with the island’s importance, together with its fragility, were deeply disturbed by what happened with Star Wars.

Is your critic even aware of these aspects of his dogmatically glib “unequivocally justified” judgment?

Is he aware that replica Skellig-type buildings and similar landscape features were used on the Dingle peninsula, proving that it was never necessary to actually film on the island, that aerial and scene-setting long shots of Skellig, together with studio and computer-generated work, could have obviated the necessity to shoot on the island itself? That this would have prevented this Unesco site, unique in European Christianity, and a place revered and valued worldwide, from becoming a movie-set shrine, with all the consequent dangers, while at the same time welcoming the undoubted benefits to west coast tourism?

Does any of this matter to your film critic, or is his perspective limited to the darkened interior of a cinema?

The world of cinema, even of commercial cinema, can be very enriching for all of us. But it can also be a world where financial evaluation and parameters, and a certain glamorous pseudo-sophistication, can seem to overcome many of its adherents.

Just over a year ago, a number of very well-known names in the world of Irish cinema amused themselves on Twitter by sneering at the physical appearance of a number of members of Aosdána at a general assembly which had unanimously passed a motion expressing concern at the secrecy and lack of consultation government departments practised in relation to Star Wars and Skellig Michael. They made no attempt to engage with the concerns of that body or of others who were uneasy at what had happened. But then, Twitter is not the vehicle for serious argument.

I am very much aware of the majority of Irish film practitioners who are aware of and concerned about safeguarding and developing those aspects of our culture and heritage which are of interest to the commercial world simply as commodities to be exploited.

I hope that your film critic will soon find himself able to join them in this. – Yours, etc,



Co Kerry.