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Saturday 16 December 2017

Force strong at Skellig Michael with invasion of Star Wars fans

Almost 14,700 people visited Skellig Michael last year
Almost 14,700 people visited Skellig Michael last year

Anne Lucey

Skellig Michael, off the coast of Co Kerry, has seen a huge surge in visitor numbers, according to latest figures.

New statistics released by the Office for Public Works (OPW) show the heritage site has enjoyed a boost since it came to international prominence by featuring in scenes from Star Wars.

Last year saw almost 14,700 people land on the island - well above the figure considered sustainable in the Unesco-approved management plan for the island.

The OPW said the 2016 figure was "exceptional" and due to good weather during the mid-May to October visitor season.

"While the total number of visitors to Skellig Michael for 2016 was 14,648, this was an exceptional yearly outcome, reflecting more benign access than is generally usual and typically, total numbers are in fact lower," the OPW said.

However, if the rise continued, there would be concern about the Skellig's ability to absorb such numbers, it said in response to questions.

Skellig Michael is the most spectacularly situated of all the early medieval Christian monastic sites and hermitages, and the entire island is a world heritage site.

The current management plan, spanning 2008-2018, said that since 1995, the average number of visitors was around 11,100 per season. This figure was considered sustainable "in terms of protection of the national monument", the plan said.

In 2015, the number of visitors was 12,560; in 2016, it reached 14,678, according to the OPW.

Demand for boat trips was high, according to local boatmen who want the season extended.

Analyses of recent admission levels carried out by the OPW indicate that, having regard to the fact that natural forces of the weather and sea will significantly limit access to the island by as much as 40-50pc typically across a season, the experience over recent years showed the volumes visiting the island were not in the critical range.

It has, however, promised to monitor the numbers.

"If if the numbers were to increase significantly, and remain there consistently for the medium and longer term, there would be a heightened concern about the ability of the site to continue to absorb this pressure," the OPW said.

Earlier this year, a major rock fall, for the second year in succession, led to fears the opening of the island would have to be put back.

The OPW insisted the two biggest rock falls in 40 years were not linked to the filming of Star Wars at the site.

Irish Independent

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