STAR WARS ON SKELLIG MICHAEL
Let the Force awaken a passion for the Wild Atlantic Way
Skellig Michael has long left an indelible impression. More than 100 years ago, that giant of Irish literature, George Bernard Shaw, described this pyramidal sandstone island as an “incredible, impossible, mad place” that is “part of our dream world”. Its importance as an historic, cultural and geographical wonder was recognised in 1996 when it was awarded Unesco World Heritage designation. It was, adjudicators deemed, of “exceptional universal value”.
But for many, this magical place – and its smaller sister island – more than 11km west of Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula remained barely known.
That changed at the end of 2015 when Skellig Michael featured prominently in one of the year’s biggest movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This wondrous place, with its distinctive beehive huts built by monks in the sixth century and only accessible to those who climb its 600 steps, looked resplendent on the big screen.
And, from December 15, it will likely play an even greater role in the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi.
Disney Lucasfilm – the production company behind the globally popular franchise – had been looking for somewhere otherworldly and they found it at Skellig Michael. The movie’s location manager Martin Joy captured its spectacular beauty when he noted: “We needed to find somewhere completely from another time and place. We were just blow away by it. It’s an extraordinary place. It certainly fed into our Star Wars universe.”
JJ Abrams, director of The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson, who directed The Last Jedi, were similarly enthralled by the breathtaking beauty of the place, with Abrams noting his delight that he was allowed direct in such a remarkable location.
But when the new movie hits the screens, it won’t be just the Skelligs that will take the breath away. Several dramatic coastal locations right along the length of the Wild Atlantic Way were filmed and will likely be spliced together in the film’s final cut.
It’s a testament to the spectacular, elemental beauty of the region that the makers of Star Wars found what they were looking for from Donegal down to West Cork.
And visitors to the region will be able to savour the spectacular beauty of their surrounds whether they’re Star Wars aficionados or not.
Malin Head, Co Donegal
Ireland in miniature, as this mod northerly peninsula is known due to its distinctive shape, is famed for its wild and rugged coastline, its Blue Flag beaches and some of the largest sand dunes in Ireland.
Star Wars makers would have been transfixed by the strikingly named Hell’s Hole – a cavern 250-foot long cavern in the cliff face into which the tide rushes with great force.
The tower at Banba’s Crown also captivates visitors – it’s to be found at the northernmost tip and this part of the peninsula is named after one of the mythical queens of Ireland. To its east, you’ll find Ballyhillion Beach, an unusual example of a ‘raised beach’ that has attracted much International attention.
McGrorys Culdaff and the Redcastle Hotel & Spa are excellent choices for those keen to explore this remarkable area. A number of the Star Wars crew stayed in the Redcastle Hotel & Spa during filming.
Loop Head, Co Clare
Loop Head captures the essence of the Wild Atlantic Way. Think panoramic cliff views, magnificently wild scenery, remote beauty spots that little bit off the tourist trails, the warmest of Banner County welcomes and sumptuous food, mostly culled from sea and land.
Its lighthouse is one of the great beacons of the western coast and has kept sailers safe for centuries: the first lighthouse was built here in 1670. It’s located in Co Clare’s most western extremity and manages to feel both remote and accessible at the same time.
Kilkee is an excellent point from which to explore the area, and the perfect way to unwind after a long, bracing hike is with a seaweed bath at theKilkee Thalassotherapy Centre. There’s accommodation here too, and at the Stella Maris hotel in Kilkee.
Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry
Long renowned for its beauty and captivating scenery, this jewel in the Kingdom’s crown had its own Hollywood moment. Its spectacular beaches, including Inch Strand, featured in David Lean’s epic masterpiece, Ryan’s Daughter.
But it will have its moment in The Last Jedi too because it was here, on Ceann Sibéal (Sybil Head), that the crew recreated the beehive huts that are found on Skellig Michael. This elemental headland, with its 700 foot cliffs, was deemed suitably wild when it came to recreating the Skelligs, and had to be done as filming opportunities were limited on the island itself.
Nearby, Ballyferriter was a popular recreation spot for cast and crew and, fittingly, there will be a special three-day event, Fėile Star Wars, taking place on 14-17 December 2017 to celebrate the area as a key location in the upcoming installment of the beloved LucasFilm franchise. The event will kick off with one of the first screenings of Star Wars; The Last Jedi at Dingle’s Phoenix Cinema on 14th December.
Dingle is a foodie haven all year round and fine accommodation can be had at Heaton’s Guesthouse and Greenmount House in the town.
Skellig Coast, Iveragh Peninsula, Co Kerry
The trailer for The Last Jedi boasts awe-inspiring footage of Skellig Michael and features the celebrated ‘wailing woman’ rock at the cliff edge. As Skelligs is a renowned bird sanctuary and only accessible to small craft, visitor numbers are strictly limited. But it’s still possible to appreciate how magnetic it is from the mainland and to immerse yourself in the world of Star Wars.
The picturesque village of Portmagee is where most boats depart to visit Skellig Michael in the summer months. During the filming the cast and crew stayed here and many were smitten with the Moorings, the much-loved pub where Luke Skywalker himself (Mark Hamill) immersed himself in the social life of the area and learned to pull the perfect pint.
It’s on this magnificent peninsula where you will find the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve. Thanks to the absence of light pollution, visitors get to experience the night sky just like our ancient ancestors would have. It’s a must for astronomers and sci-fi lovers alike.
Brow Head, Mizen Peninsula, Co Cork
West Cork’s rugged coastline features a host of strikingly beautiful headlands, none more so that Brow Head and it’s easy to see what attracted Star Wars to the region.
There’s an old Marconi signaling tower here and Crookhaven village is a short drive away. It’s long been prized by sailing enthusiasts thanks to its seafront restaurants, cafes and pubs.
Nearby Mizen Head offers breathtaking views with its spectacular bridge and lighthouse looking across at Fastnet Lighthouse. It’s known as ‘Ireland’s Teardrop’ because it was the last glimpse of the country that emigrants saw on their journey to the New World in the 19th century.
There are some glorious beaches here, including Galley Cove and the vast strand at Barleycove Beach.