'The lasting effects on the Skelligs are the ones you can't see'
Published 15/09/2016 | 02:30
This summer was our first opportunity to see if there have been any lasting effects from the filming of 'Star Wars' on Skellig Michael.
For better or worse, there has been a major impact. From Killarney onwards, T-shirts at €25 show Stormtroopers among the monastery's beehive cells. The boat trips needed to be booked far in advance but were worth the wait.
Visitors normally learn of the 600 AD settlement and its steps chiselled by the monks on this exposed mountain of an island.
This year, however, perceptions and questions are jumbled. We see where Luke Skywalker was found at Christ's Saddle in Episode VII. 'Star Wars' enthusiasts have, over 40 years, shown an unquenchable thirst for seeking out such details. For them, Skellig Michael will long be a treasured destination.
The filming did not cause obvious damage. The damage is to the narrative and mystique of Skellig Michael. The visitor's immersion in the site and its context has been sullied. This loss is not necessarily from a religious perspective. For some it represents the extent to which idealism can inspire human endeavour. For Ireland there may be an additional significance.
Skellig Michael has been described as 'the world's foremost example of a monastic and hermetic settlement from early Christendom'. Surely it is all the more precious because it dates from 1,000 years before Ireland became renowned for its sectarian divisions.
That money has triumphed over heritage is not the fault of Disney or any of the commercial interests. It is the nature of their business. Filming of 'Star Wars' on the Skelligs was sanctioned by Ireland's government, at a time when it had an unchallengeable majority. Similarly, it restricted access to the waters around the islands, using naval resources which may have made a contribution elsewhere. The political system protected neither ethos nor heritage. The gift that is the Skelligs is not our generation's to trade. There is surely an urgent need to devise balanced supervising bodies for our heritage, perhaps with formal international links and that they be independent of the political and commercial sectors.