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JJ Abrams feels the force of Irish Unesco site for Star Wars shoot

Published 04/01/2016

Director JJ Abrams has revealed his shock at being allowed to film scenes for Star Wars: The Force Awakens on one of Ireland's Unesco sites.

The Skellig Michael islands of Co Kerry were sought out for some of the movie's final scenes as the production team wanted to find locations which boosted the appearance of reality.

"I can't believe they let us shoot there, it was so beautiful," Abrams said.

"I felt the standard had to be authenticity, the standard had to be reality."

The Skelligs, an early Christian hermitage and now home to the world's second largest colony of gannets, was twice opened to Lucasfilm in a controversial decision opposed by some conservationists.

A limited number of tourists are allowed to climb the precipitous stone walkways during summer to protect its unique archaeology and nature.

But during a second round of filming last summer an ecologist was brought on to the world heritage site to monitor activity, with the power to cut the Hollywood shoot.

Producers also operated under a strict licence which allowed crews and material to be flown in but they had to abide by stringent bio-security protocols to stop rats getting on to the majestic sea crag.

Filming took place on the island first in 2014 and it is understood last summer's shoot will form part of Star Wars Episode VIII which is scheduled to be ready for a release in May 2017.

Some of the footage formed the backdrop for the final scenes in The Force Awakens.

Abrams and other key figures from the production discussed shooting on location off the Irish coast in a special promotional video shot by Lucasfilm for Tourism Ireland.

The agency is using the footage in a marketing drive in more than a dozen countries including Britain, the US, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, the Nordic region, Australia, New Zealand, India, the Gulf Co-operation Council and South Africa.

Martin Joy, supervising location manager for the shoot, said the film-makers were looking for somewhere that looked like it was from another time and place.

"We were just blown away by it. It's an extraordinary place. It certainly fed into our Star Wars universe," he said.

Paschal Donohoe, Ireland's Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, said: "The fact that Skellig Michael features in all its glory brings the dramatic scenery of Co Kerry and the broader Wild Atlantic Way to an audience of potentially hundreds of millions of people."

Niall Gibbons, Tourism Ireland chief executive, said: "Tourism Ireland is taking every opportunity to capitalise on the publicity around the film, to help whet people's appetites to come and visit."

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