Skellig's Star Wars role is a golden opportunity for Irish tourism

Published 22/12/2015 | 00:00

The decision to allow the makers of Star Wars film scenes on Kerry's Skellig Michael looks to have paid off in spades.

The latest movie in the blockbuster science fiction saga is on track to becoming the most successful Hollywood production ever, raking in $55 million dollars on its opening night, and Skellig Michael has a brief but very significant role in the picture.

Without spoiling the plot, it is safe to tell readers that the UNESCO world heritage site looks nothing short of spectacular on screen, with no special effects needed to heighten the island's amazing natural beauty.

Irish audiences will likely be very familiar, or at least aware, of the Skelligs but foreign viewers will be picking their jaws off the floor when they see the island on the silver screen for the first time.

As such, Skellig Michael's appearance in Star Wars is the sort of publicity money can't buy and it is guaranteed to provide a major boost to tourism, not just in Kerry, but right across the country.

Heritage body An Taisce, and a small number of environmentalists, vociferously protested against the decision to allow filming on the island in summer 2014 and again last September.

As it turned out their concerns about damage to the island, which actually has more daily visitors during the normal summer tourist season, proved unfounded - save for two of three examples of extremely minor damage which was fully and immediately repaired.

The cost to Ireland of allowing, and assisting with, the filming was next to nothing. However, the benefits could be absolutely enormous. Especially given that the Skelligs, along with other parts of west Kerry, are set for an even larger role in the next Star Wars picture in 2017

Sceptics may wonder how a mere science fiction movie could potentially bring so much to Ireland. To answer this one needs only point to the example of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland.

That HBO made show is currently the most successful programme on television. Much of it is filmed on location in the North and, since the programme exploded in popularity, fans have been flocking to the six counties in droves to visit the sets and locations.

In 2014 alone, Tourism Ireland say Game of Thrones was worth almost £9 million to the area in terms of the tourism revenue it attracted.

While that's a huge amount in relative terms, Game of Thrones' popularity is dwarfed by the Star Wars franchise which is the single most successful franchise in entertainment history, boasting billions of fans across the globe.

The chance to show Ireland's stunning natural beauty to such a large and eager audience is a remarkable opportunity for the country and our vital tourism sector.

Star Wars' locations deep in the deserts of Tunisia and the jungles of Guatamala draw thousands of fans every year. Skellig Michael, just off the Ring of Kerry, has considerably easier to access and should prove even more popular with visitors.

Wexford People

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