Thursday 19 July 2018

Fair winds and 'Star Wars' fans drive calls for more Skellig tours

Visits to Skellig Michael are allowed from May to October. Photo: Damien Eagers
Visits to Skellig Michael are allowed from May to October. Photo: Damien Eagers

Nick Bramhill and Caroline Crawford

The Office of Public Works has stepped up measures to prevent unauthorised boat landings on Skellig Michael ahead of the official start to the visitor season next month, and warned it will be keeping a "close watch" on the protected island.

Tourist chiefs in west Kerry have noted a huge surge in interest in the isolated Unesco World Heritage site from overseas visitors after it featured at the climax of the blockbuster film 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'.

But the OPW said it has no plans to bow down to demands to extend the short visitor season, warning that accessing the breathtaking island at present is particularly risky due to damage caused by storms over the winter.

The OPW's stance has caused a bitter rift with many of the boatmen licensed to carry passengers to the island, who say the restricted four-and-a-half month season, which runs from May 14 to October 2, is making it increasingly difficult for them to make a living.

The OPW is issuing 15 permits for the upcoming season, up from 11 last year, which will allow 180 tourists to visit the 200m-high outpost every day once the season starts - up from last year's daily capacity of 132 visitors.

But veteran boatman Joe Roddy said the curtailed season is making it more challenging to cover costs and will lead to disappointment from hundreds of visiting 'Star Wars' fans.

"Demand is very high because of the 'Star Wars' movie, but it won't be of any benefit to us at all. I can only carry 12 passengers a day and I'll be booked out anyway during the season," he said.

"The only thing that would help would be if the OPW extended the season. There's been some fine days this month where I could have taken visitors out to the island and we understand the sea conditions better than anyone," he added.

The OPW said it is "not feasible" to open the island to the public earlier, as staff must carry out maintenance and safety work and train guides.

Meanwhile, with the May Bank Holiday just a week away and the summer holiday season in sight, forecasters have dampened hopes of sunshine and warm weather in the days ahead.

Gerry Murphy of Met Eireann warned that cold and showery conditions are in store over the coming week. The country will be hit by hail, sleet and showers, with little reprieve in line for next weekend.

Temperatures could fall as low as 0C at night.

People are being told to brace themselves for frosty nights and cool days, with temperatures struggling to get past 10C in the week ahead.

Mr Murphy warned that temperatures will range from 7C to 10C, well below the norm of 11C to 14C expected for this time of year.

He said frost would occur most nights this week.

"We have a cool week in store with temperatures struggling to reach above 10 degrees, with frost on most nights and showers throughout the week," he added.

And any hopes of barbeques or beach trips for the May Bank Holiday weekend have also been scuppered.

While things pick up slightly for the weekend, temperatures are not expected to rise above 9C-12C.

While Saturday will be mainly dry, more showers are in store for the Bank Holiday Sunday.

Irish Independent

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