Thursday 12 December 2019

Skellig expert hits out at filming on ‘last bastion of Christianity’

Archaeologist Michael Gibbons has criticised the use of Skellig Michael for filming
Archaeologist Michael Gibbons has criticised the use of Skellig Michael for filming
John Murphy, who owns Waterfront, Bed and Breakfast in Portmagee, Co. Kerry. Picture: Damien Eagers

Majella O’Sullivan

A LEADING archaeologist has described as a “scandal” the decision by the State to hand over Skellig Michael for filming of the new ‘Star Wars’ movie.

Michael Gibbons, who was the director of the Office of Public Works’ archeological survey for 10 years, said the decision flies in the face of UNESCO’s rules and was done without its authorisation.

The final day of filming of the JJ Abrams directed ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ takes place on the island today, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 because of its Christian monastic ruins that date to the 6th Century.

One of the series’ most iconic characters, Luke Skywalker, is reprised for the seventh installment, 30 years after ‘Return of the Jedi’.

Mark Hamill, who is now 62, is being accompanied on location in Kerry by his wife Marilou and his adult children, Nathan, Chelsea and Griffin.

However, Mr Gibbons said it was disgraceful the Irish Navy was maintaining a two-mile exclusion zone around the island.

“For pilgrims, this is the last bastion of Christianity against the devil. This wouldn’t have happened on St Michael’s Mountain in Cornwall, on Iona in Scotland or in Canterbury Cathedral and these are sites of similar importance,” he said.

“We were presented with a fait accompli before any of the issues around it were discussed or talked through which shows a democratic deficit,” he said.

The Irish Film Board said consent was granted after “extensive scientific analysis” by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and was subject to “several agreed conditions and restrictions”.

A statement said the filming programme had also been designed specifically to avoid disturbance with breeding birds on the island.

But Birdwatch Ireland said it could not understand why permission had been granted in the middle of the breeding season and that September would have been a far more appropriate time.

Meanwhile, locals in Portmagee have welcomed the tourism boost filming has given the area, the dividends of which they expect will be felt for decades.

Owner of the Waterfront B&B John Murphy told the Irish Independent 140 beds had been booked by the production crew in the area, all on a single occupancy basis.

Work on set began early yesterday with the first boats carrying crew leaving Portmagee pier at 6am.

Security personnel were on duty at 5am but once the helicopter left Con O’Shea’s farm at 7.45am, it signalled the action was about to begin.

Director JJ Abrams travels by helicopter to Skellig Michael as does its top star Mr Hamill.

Meanwhile, a creative Portmagee family has already capitalised on the filming.

James, John and Gillian Murphy uploaded a popular video clip on YouTube that gives us a glimpse of what Star Wars: Episode VII might look like.

Cleverly using coverage taken on Skellig Michael – long before the film crew ever arrived – it superimposes some of the epics series' most famous characters including Chewbacca, R2-D2 and an Imperial AT-ST while the Death Star hovers overhead and Imperial Tie Fighters fly past in formation.

It's all to promote their parents' B&B, The Waterfront.

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