'Star Wars' Turned This Tiny Irish Island Into a Tourist Hotspotby
Skellig Michael is site of pivotal scene in latest movie
Rock island is home to ruins of 6th-centry monastery
When “Star Wars: The Force Awakens" premiered in Dublin, the room broke out in applause at the sight of national treasure Skellig Michael. Now, the country wants the world to discover the island.
A climactic scene of the latest installment was filmed on the vast, jagged rock a short boat trip from a fishing village in County Kerry. Tourism Ireland commissioned the movie’s producer, Lucasfilm, to make a short promotional film, in which director J.J. Abrams discusses why Skellig Michael was chosen.
"I can’t believe they let us shoot there,” said Abrams of the site, home to the ruins of a monastery built by monks between the sixth and eighth centuries. Abrams’ scouts originally said they were in the area to shoot a documentary on puffins. “I mean, it was so beautiful.”
Locals are already being deluged with inquiries from fans looking to stay in Portmagee, the village that hosted the film’s crew during shooting. Gerard Kennedy, who runs the Moorings guest house and Bridge Bar there, is offering a 149-euro ($160), two-night package for fans looking for the "Star Wars" experience, which includes a T-shirt and the “inside story” of the filming.
Kennedy said he expects a “major increase” in business on the back of the movie, and fans have already arrived in the area. They can buy a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘May the Craic be with you,’ before taking a trip to view Skellig Michael. Craic, for those unfamiliar, is a local term for fun.
“When they come, all they talk about is ‘Star Wars,’” Kennedy said. “When they come back, all they are talking about is Skellig and the monastery. ”
The success of "Star Wars" may bring its own problems to the site, as boats can only go to Skellig Michael between May and October. Even before the explosion of Star Wars-related interest, queues formed to make the trip, Kennedy said. Tourism is surging in Ireland, in part because of the slump in the euro against the dollar, and accounts for about 7 percent of national employment. Trips to Ireland from North America rose about 15 percent in the first 11 months of 2015 from the year-earlier period.
Filming began on Skellig in August 2014, and wasn’t controversy-free, with environmentalists objecting that the site may be at risk during the shoot. For safety and conservation reasons, visitor numbers are limited to about 15,000 a year to the island itself. Other people can opt for boat trips around the site. One must climb 660 steps to reach the ruins of the monastery, a trip that’s not without its own risks -- two American tourists fell to their deaths there in 2009.
The shoot went off without any such tragedies and the cast came to celebrate at Kennedy’s bar for a wrap party. Kennedy didn’t recognize Mark Hamill when the actor stepped behind his bar to pull a pint of Guinness.
“My son said: it’s Luke Skywalker!” said Kennedy, 55, who has run the business with his wife for about 25 years. “All I cared about was about getting pints and food out.”