Blockade in force on Skellig Michael for Star Wars filming

The force was strong on Skellig Michael yesterday as the navy set up an exclusion zone to prevent anyone from sneaking a peek as the Star Wars team rolled into town.

The traditional fishing village of Portmagee, Co Kerry, was only stirring when a security team arrived at the local marina at 6am yesterday — the only sign that something unusual was underway.

Soon, there was activity among the dozen local ferries conveying tourists to Skellig Michael.

With settlements dating back to the sixth century, it’s a cone-shaped island lying 12km off the coast.

But the monks of old, who endured privation on what is essentially a barren rock rising more than 200m out of the sea, would have had little in common with the visitors yesterday who were shooting footage for Star Wars: Episode VII.

The ferries — all booked for three days by Foodles Production Ltd — left Portmagee for Skellig, shortly before 8am carrying the crew, equipment, and supplies for the day andreturned late in the evening.

Skellig, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and other places used by the company were sealed off.

Even the ferrymen had to get clearance to go on board, so tight was security and secrecy surrounding the filming.

Ruggedly spectacular in yesterday’s sunshine, Skellig has been closed to visitors until Thursday and the ferries are contracted at a reported fee of €1,000 per day. Contracts also include a confidentiality clause.

Con O’Shea’s farm is rented out by the company and is also under tight security. Trucks and other vehicles came and went yesterday and tents for film crew were erected in the farmyard.

Eileen Whelan, who runs the Skellig Mist Café, said she had never been busier than in the last week.

“We’re hoping that the film will help bring people long-term,” she said.

“Star Wars has big fan clubs around the world and they tend to visit places where these films are made. It should be great for Portmagee and south Kerry.”

In the absence of official information, rumours abound locally and the consensus among film buffs seem to be that just a few minutes of the next Stars Wars film will be shot on Skellig. The majestic rock provides an awesome, natural backdrop in contrast to computer-generated graphics — perhaps a background for visitors landing from a galaxy far, far away.

A 3km exclusion zone, ministerially approved, is in force around Skellig for the three days of filming, with a naval patrol vessel present yesterday.

Bemused tourists and celeb-spotters gathered on the pier at Portmagee hoping to get a glimpse of well-known movie stars, peering at any “suspects’’ in dark glasses and baseball caps. Director JJ Abrams was on Skellig, but no identifiable actors could be seen on dry land.

Earlier this year, south-west Kerry was officially designated a Dark Sky Place and one of the best locations in the world to stargaze at night — but stars were few and far between yesterday.

There is ongoing speculation that some big-name may come today or tomorrow, but the production company is tight-lipped.

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