Rockfalls see ban on boats landing on Skellig Michael

The Office of Public Works had issued a ban on all boats from landing on Skellig Michael until further notice or without express permission due to what are described as “extremely dangerous” conditions.

Picture: Don MacMonagle

Rockfalls on the famous world heritage site off the Kerry coast have left parts of the island in a hazardous, unstable state.

The Department of Transport issued a marine notice over the weekend advising seafarers that people should not be landed on the island from any vessel without the express consent of the OPW.

The department said the notice would be cancelled once it is advised by the OPW that repairs have been completed and the island has been reopened to the public.

The warning comes after the OPW reported that rockfalls have caused a breach to the Lighthouse Road which forms the sole access route to the monastic site from the island’s landing point.

The OPW has described the damage as “significant and extensive”. It also expressed concern that steep ground above the roadway may be subject to further rockfalls following heavy rains.

The OPW said the rockfalls must be examined and repaired before public access is permitted. “The OPW has advised that the island remains in a highly unstable and extremely dangerous condition and should, under no circumstances, be accessed or anyone other than the OPW project team and their contractors involved in the assessment of the damage and repairs,” said a department spokesperson.

“Any unauthorised persons landing on the island before the necessary repairs have been carried out would be exposed to considerable risk.”

The monastic site, which lies 12km off the Kerry coast, requires visitors to climb 618 steps in a demanding ascent.

The season for visiting Skellig Michael is restricted to between May 15 and September 30 each year.

Access to the island is normally provided by local boatmen operating from Portmagee and Ballinskellings under licence from the OPW. The number visiting the island fell by 18% last year to 12,650 — with the decrease largely due to the fact that access was restricted because of its use as a location for the last Star Wars movie.

The publicity surrounding Skellig Michael’s inclusion in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is expected to see an increase in the number of tourists wishing to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the number of visitors is restricted in order to protect the island’s vulnerable ecosystem.

Preparations for the latest round of filming of the Star Wars series continues on the Kerry headland, with work being carried on recreating the beehive-like structures of Sceilig Mhichíl.

It is understood filming will begin next month and could run for two weeks.

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