Battle begins for Skellig Michael boat permits

Fans in Star Wars costumes visiting Skellig Michael which featured in the last two Star Wars movies. Picture: Justin Kernoghan

Applications have opened for commercial permits to operate boats to Skellig Michael, the World Heritage sixth-century monastic site off the coast of Kerry, made more famous globally by the movie series Star Wars.

Last year, almost 16,800 people made the 45-minute crossing to the OPW-managed landmass in a limited number of 12-seater boats.

The 11km boat journey in the season ahead is likely to cost from €80 to €100 per person, including children.

Operators have been invited by the OPW to participate in a Public Competition for Permits. The OPW said it will not accept verbal queries.

The process will lead to the selection of 15 boats for a period of three years, rather than a previous two-year permit. The closing date is January 21.

The season is due to officially commence in mid-May but operators are likely to apply pressure on the OPW for an April commencement.

Noted boatman Seanie Murphy, operator of the passenger vessel Sea Crest, yesterday said a minimum of a seven-year term would be more ideal. “Three years isn’t much time, really,” he said. “Ideally it should be seven years to allow us to plan.”

Boat builder on Valentia Island, Fionán Murphy, operates the custom-built Skellig Walker which is one of the newest vessels on the route. He expects all of the current permit holders to re-apply. He said the filming of Star Wars scenes on the Skellig had led to a huge increase in tourist business. Along with American tourists, in particular, Mr Murphy said there were increasing numbers of Irish, British, and European visitors.

He believes the increased three-year term will bring a certain degree of stability for the boat owners, many of whom had invested heavily in the route since the Star Wars phenomenon.

The boat-landing season for the Unesco-designated heritage site is due to run until the end of September but operators are seeking a springtime start to compensate for bad weather periods in September last year when all trips were cancelled for most of the month.

Also, next year, a public consultation proposal on a new 10-year management plan for the island is to be submitted for Unesco approval by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

In the meantime, individual boat operators or partnerships seeking permits are invited to be “considered for inclusion in the competition for a place on the panel”.

Full details are available on www.heritageireland.ie and www.opw.ie, where the relevant forms can be downloaded.

Skellig Michael first featured in The Force Awakens, shot in 2014, and more prominently in The Last Jedi, filmed in 2016, when the island’s beehive huts were recreated on the mainland.

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