Skelligs feel the force as visitor numbers rise

Visitor numbers to Skellig Michael, the precipitous monastic island off the coast of Kerry which closed for the season yesterday, were up this year on the back of the success of Star Wars.

By the middle of September, a total of 13,500 people had visited the 6th century monastic island, a Unesco World Heritage Site, according to the Office of Public Works.

A rockfall, which required sensitive repairs to the main visitor road, delayed the official mid-May opening by just one day.

The island has become the centre of attention in recent years following the success of the latest Star Wars movie The Force Awakens.

Last year, 2015, some 12,560 visited Skellig Michael by season’s end in October.

Boatmen who ferry visitors across 12km of often rough seas to and from the island are again calling for the visitor season — the official period when OPW guides are living on the island to cater to visitors — to return to the traditional May 1 to October 31 season which ceased in 2007.

Seánie Murphy, a long-time Skellig boatman, operating from Portmagee, said 16 days had been lost this September because the boats could not travel due to bad weather; the season is already shortened by 74 days and this is directly affecting tourism business all over south Kerry.

“It doesn’t just affect the boatmen to the Skeillig, it affects everyone — hotels, guesthouses, bars in Killarney and all over the area,” Mr Murphy said.

Extending the season would help satisfy both the Star Wars attraction, as well as the latent demand there anyway, Mr Murphy said.

The OPW has previously rejected calls to extend the season, citing bad weather in October, as well as the need to protect the fragile island from too many visitors.

 

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