Belfast Telegraph

Feathers ruffled as world heritage body questions why Star Wars crew was allowed on Skellig Michael

Filming of Star Wars on Skellig Michael has ruffled more feathers than just those of the native puffin population with UNESCO also making inquiries as to who authorised the shoot.

Work on day two of filming for Star Wars: Episode VII began early yesterday morning with boats carrying crew to the remote island off the County Kerry coast at around 6am.

But UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre has already made inquiries about who authorised filming on Skellig Michael which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1996 because of its monastic settlement ruins that date back to the 6th century.

Birdwatch Ireland is also complaining about the timing of the filming in the middle of the breeding season for the island’s native bird population.

And a leading archaeologist has described as a “scandal” the decision by the Irish State to hand over Skellig Michael for filming for the new Star Wars movie.

Michael Gibbons, who was the director of the Office of Public Work's archeological survey for 10 years, said the decision flies in the face of UNESCO's rules and was done without its authorisation.

The final day of filming of the JJ Abrams-directed movie takes place on the island today.

One of the series' most popular characters, Luke Skywalker, is reprised for the seventh instalment, 30 years after his last appearance in Return of the Jedi.

Mark Hamill, who is now aged 62, is being accompanied on location in Kerry by his wife Marilou and his adult children, Nathan, Chelsea and Griffin.

However, Mr Gibbons said it is disgraceful that the Irish Navy is maintaining a two-mile zone around the island, excluding Irish citizens from getting anywhere near it.

“For pilgrims, this is a holy island, the last bastion of Christianity against the devil. This wouldn't have happened on St Michael's Mountain in Cornwall, on Iona in Scotland or in Canterbury Cathedral and these are the sites of similar importance,” he said.

“We were presented with a fait accompli before any of the issues around it were discussed or talked through which shows a democratic deficit,” he said.

The Irish Film Board said consent was granted after “extensive scientific analysis” by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and was subject to “several agreed conditions and restrictions”.

A statement said the filming programme had also been designed specifically to avoid disturbance with breeding birds on the island.

But Birdwatch Ireland said it could not understand why permission had been granted in the middle of the breeding season and that September would have been a far more appropriate time.

Meanwhile, locals in Portmagee, Co Kerry, have welcomed the tourism boost filming has given the area, the dividends of which they expect will be felt for decades.

Owner of the Waterfront B&B, John Murphy, said 140 beds had been booked by the production crew in the area, all on a single occupancy basis.


Star Wars: Episode VII is the seventh instalment in the much-loved franchise. Fans are particularly excited about this latest movie because it brings back characters from the original trilogy, including Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill, who plays Skywalker, had his first day filming in Ireland yesterday when he was flown out to Michael Skellig by helicopter.

Jedi knights and storm troopers land in sleepy rural village as Star Wars comes to a remote corner of Ireland  

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