Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker turns up for filming on Skellig Michael

Mark Hamill outside the Butler Arms Hotel in Waterville, Co Kerry, where he has been staying while filming the new Star Wars movie
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in 1980

Original Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker has finally turned up for filming on the barren Skellig Michael island off the west coast of Ireland.

Played by Mark Hamill, the actor came ashore for filming sporting a beard and looking a far cry from his youthful persona in the original films.

While fans have hailed the use of Skellig Michael as a location for scenes in Star Wars Episode VII, others are not so happy with the way the film makers have gone about securing access.

First of all tour boat operators were banned from taking visitors to the island for the duration of filming.

The operators were offered some work and compensation but tourists planning to visit the island at the height of the summer were not happy.

Now Unesco, the international culture and heritage agency, has asked the Irish Government for a report on the use of the site for filming

The World Heritage Site is home to many breeding birds including puffins, manx shearwaters, storm petrels, guillemots and kittiwakes.

Unesco spokesman Roni Amelan said they want information about the preservation of the site and particularly any impact on wildlife.

"We can't speculate what the filming of Star Wars on the site will do to the wildlife," he said.

"We just know that this is going on and we have asked for information."

Unesco – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – has 195 member states and nine associate members.

A two-mile exclusion zone, patrolled by an Irish Navy vessel, has been declared around Skellig Michael.

Filming on the island – a former monastic settlement – has been brought forward several weeks, and conservationists say that threatens rare birds that are in the middle of their breeding season.

Stephen Newton, a seabirds expert with Birdwatch Ireland, said he could not get onto the island to check the important colony.

"This is totally inappropriate in terms of the timing," he said.

Mr Newton said he was asked by the film producers only days before shooting was to begin if he would help them with an impact assessment to secure permits for filming.

He refused, arguing it would take several weeks to assess, as many of the species breed underground or in rocky crevices where it would be difficult to see what damage is being done.

"I don't think there was enough assessment on the impact of this, you can't see what is going on," he said. "The birds could desert the island if they get too stressed out, by the amount of noise and vibration."

The conservationist said the island has been "hijacked" for the shoot that is expected to last several days.

The Irish Film Board, which helps international film producers locate in the Republic of Ireland, said consent was granted for a limited shoot on Skellig Michael after extensive scientific analysis by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

"That consent is subject to several agreed conditions and restrictions and is also the subject of a detailed management and mitigation plans and ecological oversight," a spokeswoman said.

Factfile

Skellig Michael is an island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Co Kerry. A Christian monastery was founded on the island at some point between the 6th and 8th century, and was continuously occupied until its abandonment in the late 12th century. The remains of this monastery, along with most of the island itself, were inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage Site list in 1996.

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