Skellig Michael will remain closed to visitors for at least another three weeks, meaning the island made famous by Star Wars could be facing its shortest-ever tourist season.
The isolated Unesco world heritage site, which featured extensively in the galactic blockbuster The Last Jedi, had been due to open up to tourists on May 15 for its already restricted annual four-and-a-half month visitor season.
However, the Office of Public Works (OPW) confirmed that staff have not been able to access the fragile Co Kerry outpost to carry out pre-season safety checks due to ongoing bad weather.
The OPW also revealed that the maintenance work, which will include a thorough examination of each of the 600 stone steps on the ancient monastic outcrop, and which under normal circumstances would have commenced in early April, will take about three weeks in total.
That means the island, which has become a mecca for Star Wars fans from all over the world, is facing a certain delay to the start of the 2018 season, with the OPW admitting it is not yet in a position to confirm when the site will be opened up to visitors.
The delay to the start of the season will create a huge headache for the 15 boatmen who have been granted permits to land tourists on the island this year.
Each boat operator is already restricted to ferrying a maximum of 12 passengers a day to the protected island.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the OPW said: “Weather conditions continue to be poor and no access to the island is possible in the short term. The OPW have not yet been in a position to start pre-season maintenance works and general preparations for the season.”
The spokesperson said that the works are likely to take about three weeks to complete, adding: “The starting date for the season remains to be confirmed.”
In 2015, visitor numbers stood at 12,560 and jumped to 14,548 in 2016, and surged sharply again last year to 16,755.
The OPW has attributed the increase in figures between 2016 and 2017 to the rise in boat permits from 13 to 15 between those two years.
In 2015, some of the 13 boats that had been granted permits were not in use for the entire season, according to the OPW.
Meanwhile, Star Wars fans travelling to West Kerry next weekend can look forward to a brand new space-themed festival.
Kicking off on Friday, the three-day ‘May The Fourth Be With You’ will see Star Wars-themed events taking place in the villages of Ballyferriter, Portmagee, and Ballinskelligs, as well as Valentia Island.
Publican Gerard Kennedy, who runs the Moorings guesthouse in Portmagee, said: “It’s going to be a very busy weekend. We’ve been very busy taking bookings, and the way things are looking I think this is going to become an annual festival.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved