‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ highlights Ireland’s Skellig Michael
It’s nearly time to return to Ahch-To in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
Fans will also know that Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of County Kerry in the south-west of Ireland, served as a filming location for Jedi Master Luke Skywalker’s hideaway planet.
The world got a glimpse of the stunning island when Rey arrived there in the final moments of “The Force Awakens,” but they will be seeing much more of the site in “The Last Jedi” as she learns the ways of the Force from the exiled master.
Rough seas are among the challenges visitors face on Skellig Michael, which was used as a filming location in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” It lies more than seven miles off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland.
The reality of Skellig Michael may not be on the same galactic scale as the events unfolding on cinema screens this week, but it will still take visitors’ breath away.
Rising 714 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, the UNESCO World Heritage site served as a Gaelic Christian monastic settlement from the 6th or 8th century — varying accounts on its founding exist — to the late 12th century. Now, boat tours run to the island from late March to early October each year. Those interested in visiting are advised to book well in advance, since demand is high.
Stars shine at the ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ premiere
The hour-long boat journey from the coastal village of Portmagee to the island can be a rough ride and those who take it still have to follow a winding path around the island, before climbing hundreds of rock steps to reach the U-shaped valley where Rey found Luke in “The Force Awakens.”
Visitors must venture further to find the remains of the monastery on a terrace shelf 600 feet above sea level. It consists of six beehive huts, two oratories, a later medieval church and a graveyard — all intact and in remarkably good shape.
Jedi Master Luke Skywalker was discovered on the planet Ahch-To; Skellig Michael was used as a shooting location for the watery world.
It’s important to note that the rock steps can be slippery — Ireland’s weather is very variable — and those who don’t like heights may get a little nervous about some of the drops they’ll pass on the walk to the top.
Fans won’t find the beloved porgs on Skellig Michael, but are likely to encounter the birds that inspired them. Between March and early August, a massive colony of puffins flocks to the island for their breeding season and they aren’t shy about wandering close to visiting humans.
This is the valley where Rey finds Luke in “The Force Awakens.”
The puffins were also used in the cover story as Lucasfilm scouted out the island as a filming location for “The Force Awakens.” Gerard Kennedy, who owns The Moorings Guesthouse and Restaurant in Portmagee, recalls how the company claimed to be shooting a documentary when they initially sought accommodation.
However, he was tipped off when they asked for enough rooms for 180 people and permission to use the guesthouse’s common sitting room as a preproduction space.
Rey will learn to harness her Force powers on Ahch-To.
“They had all the screens lined up along here and a big board with all these keys hanging, with names on the keys,” Kennedy tells the Daily News.
He even noticed one very iconic name — “Luke Skywalker.”
Visitors will have to climb hundreds of steps, like Rey in “The Force Awakens.”
Filming began in July 2014 and Kennedy notes that staff at The Moorings had supplies ready for the crew each day before they took the boat ride from Portmagee to Skellig Michael and started work on the blockbuster.
“We organized food for them in the mornings, sometimes they’d go at 5, 6 o’clock,” he says. “Then they would come back in — they wouldn’t finish until 9, half 9 at night.”
However, Kennedy also highlights the care that Lucasfilm cast and crew took in using the site.
The climb is worthwhile, since the journey offers spectacular views.
“They had total respect for the village, they had total respect for the rock out there,” he tells The News.
Even stars Mark Hamill — who plays Luke — and Daisy Ridley — who took on the role of Rey — were unassuming during their time in Kerry. When the Moorings’ restaurant was busy, they offered to wait and have their meals when the regular patrons had finished.
“They didn’t look for any attention, or any special treatment,” recalls Kennedy. “They just fitted in with what we were doing.”
Puffins are a fixture on Skellig Michael between March and August each year. The birds inspired the porgs seen in “The Last Jedi.”
There was one exception — Hamill famously stepped behind the bar and pulled a pint of Guinness when the crew returned to shoot “The Last Jedi” in September 2015.
The monks’ beehive huts are found near the top of the island.
The guesthouse owner also remembers how the people of Portmagee were concerned about the possibility that an association with “Star Wars” might change the village and see hundreds of people swarming onto Skellig Michael each day.
“It’s a very local place and you know, people come here to relax more than anything else,” he says. “And that ties in with the rock out there, because you go out there and there’s this very spiritual feeling.”
Luckily, the limit of 180 people allowed onto the island hasn’t increased and the tourists who have been attracted to the village have respected the area, as well as the historical significance of Skellig Michael itself.
The huts have survived for hundreds of years. In the “Star Wars” universe, they even provided shelter for Jedi Master Luke Skywalker.
“I had a group of ‘Star Wars’ fans here for three nights,” Kennedy notes. “They were dressed up in their cloaks and everything. And the two days before (they went out) I heard nothing but ‘Star Wars’ — how it was made, who was involved and all this.”
The fans’ conversations changed after they returned from Skellig Michael on the third evening with a new appreciation for the island.
“It was all about the history of the rock, about the monks and how they survived there,” he tells The News. “I suppose people are coming here for ‘Star Wars,’ but when they get out, there’s a different thing spoken about when they come back in.”
The monastery sits on a terrace shelf 600 feet above sea level.
However, Kennedy warns that unpredictable sea conditions can see journeys to the island being canceled on any given day. Since demand for trips is high, visitors are sometimes unable to reschedule during their time in Kerry.
“It’s a challenge to get out there,” he says. “And that is a big disappointment for people — you might get out, you might not get out.”
The village of Portmagee, County Kerry, is leaning in to “The Last Jedi” hype, having changed its name to “Porgmagee” for the movie’s release.
(The Moorings Guesthouse and Restaurant)
For those who do get out, it’s important to be prepared. Kennedy advises wearing weather-appropriate walking gear and having lunch ready to bring out to Skellig Michael. Since boats leave between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., adventurers have to be at the dock early.
Visitors will be able to pick up something to remind them of their trip.
(The Moorings Guesthouse and Restaurant)
“If you’re coming here … you have to come the night before,” says Kennedy. “And stay the night that you’ve been out there.”
Finally, he suggests that tourists should check out the nearby Skellig Experience museum and take the time to chat to the locals and boatmen they’ll meet in the bar each night.
“They’ll give you the stories of what happened, if you really want to get into it,” says Kennedy. “It isn’t just coming and visiting the rock, it’s visiting where the crew were — real fans of ‘Star Wars’ want to do that.”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” hits theaters this Friday.
If you go…
Getting there: Round-trip flights from NYC-area airports to Dublin are available for as little as $350 when booked in advance. Renting a car is advised; the journey from Dublin to Portmagee will take approximately 4 hours and 40 minutes.
Starting Rates: $85 per night for basic accommodation, $75 per person for boat trip to Skellig Michael, $215 per person for two night Bed & Breakfast, Boat Trip to Skellig Michael, Perfect Pint Pour Challenge and “Star Wars” T-shirt.