The sleepy fishing village of Portmagee would normally expect a lull in mid-September, with the end of the Irish school holidays leading to a fall off in visitors. But this year on Sept. 14, the quays were thronged with a film crew 100 strong, watched by reporters, photographers and “Star Wars” fans gathering in hope of a glimpse of the original Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill. For the second year running, Skellig Michael, an island reached by the Portmagee ferry, was closed to visitors for the filming of “Star Wars: Episode VIII.”
The popular franchise first visited Skellig Michael, a rocky uninhabited island off the County Kerry coast, in June 2014 to film a segment for “Episode VII” (which will be released in December). The island is famed for its dramatically situated monastery, which flourished from the sixth to the 12th centuries. Today the remains, atop a 750-foot peak reached by 600 steep stone steps, is a Unesco World Heritage Site, with limited access to the public from April to October.
Skellig Michael is the main attraction of the dramatic Skellig Ring coastal drive, a 37-mile extension to the ever-popular Ring of Kerry route and a highlight of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Portmagee, with its multicolored cottages, is a picture-book fishing village. The Bridge Bar may look familiar, as it has starred in numerous ads as the ideal cozy Irish pub. For those who would rather not brave the open-boat trip to Skellig Michael, the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre at Portmagee provides an enjoyable orientation to the rocks and wildlife. A causeway leads from Portmagee to Valentia Island, population 600, the location of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. Its scenic beauty — alternating rugged cliffs and tropical vegetation — make it popular with walkers.
From Portmagee, the coastal drive continues to the high cliffs of Bray Head, where a telescope is fixed on Skellig Michael, and on to Ballinskelligs, an Irish-speaking village where the ruins of the abbey that the monks moved to when they left the island sit peacefully beside a long sandy beach. Don’t miss the Skellig Chocolate Factory, one of Ireland’s most successful artisan food enterprises, where you will be plied with samples after seeing the exquisite chocolates being made by hand.
For more information on visiting this scenic part of Ireland, visit Discoverireland.ie.
For more advice on traveling in Ireland, go to Insightguides.com.