Next time I say I'm crazy about Star Wars, you guys should believe me.
My initial plan for my recent senior trip was to spend a few days in London, England and then travel over to Dublin, Ireland for a few days. Of course, that was before I found out that Skellig Michael (a.k.a., the filming location for "Luke's Island," as it is known, for Star Wars: Episode VII and VIII) is in Ireland.
To be clear, Skellig Michael is nowhere close to Dublin. In fact, it's roughly 240 miles from the capital city. But, being the Star Wars superfan that I am, I had to go.
The fact that the island is located 240 miles from Dublin aside, getting to it from London is a rather difficult process. The closest city of notable size is Killarney (a town of about 14,000 that is absolutely lovely in its own right). Killarney has its own small airport, but getting to it requires a layover in Cork anyway; as such, my family and I decided to fly into Cork and take a train to Killarney. If you're as crazy as I am and actually decide to do this, I recommend taking this route as it affords you stunning views of the Irish countryside, which is every bit as beautiful as you are made to imagine.
On the train from Cork to Killarney
From Killarney, it's about an hour and a half drive to Portmagee (we did a day tour that took us here), a quaint seaside town of about 2,000. The influence of Star Wars is clear here, especially in The Bridge Bar, where Mark Hamill himself stopped in while filming the movies to grab a pint.
A challenge set up by The Bridge Bar in honor of Mark Hamill's visit
Whether or not you decide to grab a hot drink before you go on the island (it can get cold, but be warned, there are no toilets on the Skellig), you'll soon board one of just a handful of ships licensed for Skellig Michael tourism. This is a World Heritage site, after all, and while the number of licensed ships has grown in recent years (again, there's the Star Wars effect), you'll still need to book in advance to ensure your spot and pay in cash once you get there. Perhaps some companies will accept advance payments, but our ship that our tour guide booked did it this way.
Once twelve people had squeezed into our small boat, we set off. While the boat ride is somewhat long (the Skelligs are located eight miles off the coast), we were treated to some beautiful views of the Irish coast and even some dolphins leaping through the water as we went. My excitement built as I imagined I was on the Falcon and hummed a little bit of Star Wars music. I had a good feeling about this.
A dolphin leaps out of the water with Little Skellig in view
Am I in Ireland...or on Ahch-To looking for Luke Skywalker? Hmm, now where did I put that lightsaber?
Finally, we arrived at Skellig Michael. The crew advised us to put away our cameras so that we would have both hands available for disembarking, as it is a rather precarious procedure consisting of stepping off the boat onto some old stone stairs. However, I was able to snap a couple of pics before we got off:
Yes, it truly is that green--although I think the camera, in this case, did not even fully capture the lush beauty of this island. The plant life, consisting largely of grass, vines, and sprinklings of white flowers give the island an otherworldly feel--it certainly seemed like I was transported to a galaxy far, far away. Plus, despite the tourism, the Skellig feels so...untouched. I can understand why Luke--and indeed, the monks who once dwelt here (more on that in a moment)--would have selected this island for solitude.
A portion of the walk up to Skellig Michael's peak consisted of a gently inclined slope. In the distance, you can see the helicopter landing pad that was used extensively in the filming of Star Wars and that is briefly featured in the "behind-the-scenes" video for The Last Jedi.
The journey up to the peak of the island begins with, no, not those famous stone steps, but rather a more gently inclined slope with a sturdy brick wall continuously to your left. We passed some gorgeous, sharp cliffs during this portion along with the helicopter landing pad that was used extensively by film crew and cast in the filming of Episodes VII and VIII. Those of you with keen eyes may recognize this helicopter pad from the recently-released "behind-the-scenes" video for The Last Jedi. A bit of this path prone to falling rocks is covered with a canopy, but of course, my heightened Force sensitivity while on the island would have precluded injury from a rockfall in any case.
At the end of this slope, the infamous stone stairs lie, up which Rey trekked to deliver Luke's lightsaber. After a (somewhat) brief safety talk, we began our journey up the 600 stairs to the top (and yes, you can feel every one of them in your calves).
That's a whole lot of steps!
Pictures on the way up are allowed, as long as you stop moving. Otherwise, you might drop any cameras, lightsabers, blasters, important maps--or worse, yourself--off the sheer cliffs and into the unforgiving ocean below. Of course, aside from a couple of wide spots on the path, you probably don't want to stop to take any photos lest you incur the rage of the many traveling behind you. This ends up not being a horrible thing, as it allows you to take in the breathtaking views along the way without the distraction of a camera.
About halfway up, we came to the small valley known as Christ's Saddle, which lies in between the Skellig's tallest peaks:
You will undoubtedly recognize this as the very spot where Rey extends, with a mixture of hope and uncertainty in her eyes, Luke's lightsaber. Some areas are fenced off--however, you can walk around the area (approximately) where this scene occurred. Of course, my mom and I couldn't resist, despite looking like total idiots:
Interestingly, it seemed to me that the steps we took to get to this point were not all exactly the same as the ones Rey took, at least totally--there's a hidden staircase just behind where I'm standing in the above photo that is not used anymore. If I recall correctly, these seem to be the stairs she took rather than the ones now used by the public. Also behind me, you can see a rock jutting out that seems to match one seen in The Last Jedi trailer where Rey is seen wielding a lightsaber like a boss as Luke looks solemnly on--quite something to see in real life!
Next, we traveled up to the very peak of the island, where a monastery dating back to the 7th century lies. A brief shot of this monastery appears in The Force Awakens, though I believe it will be featured more extensively in The Last Jedi. Built by St. Finnian around A.D. 600, the monastery is more of a complex of beehive-shaped huts constructed (as with most of the structures on the island) completely out of dry stone:
A note to all the tall people out there, all the doorways were built extremely small, so be prepared to duck!
The monastery is obviously the highlight of the island. The monks who built it were incredibly thrifty and intelligent in the way they constructed it and provided for themselves--guides who live for several weeks at a time on the island are nearby to explain the fascinating history of this historic site. The complex served as a burial site, a gathering place, and a residence for the monks. It's quite amazing that these structures have survived nearly 1500 years while remaining largely intact.
Of course, the views are equally as mesmerizing, providing lovely glimpses of the Little Skellig:
Little Skellig in view from the area just outside the monastery (left)
In terms of The Last Jedi, the monastery will likely serve as the residence of Luke Skywalker and the Caretakers in the film--and perhaps a few Porgs! Unfortunately, I did not see any Porgs on the island, just a few seagulls. Most of the gulls were nesting on the Little Skellig at the time we were there, though at certain times during the year, you might spot a few puffins on Skellig Michael.
Of course, as absolutely stunning as the Skellig was, we had to get off at some point, but the Force stuck with us for quite some time after. There are few words that can adequately sum up my experience on Skellig Michael, a.k.a. Luke's island, except stunning, breathtaking, and just wicked cool. My entire family agreed this was the coolest thing we've ever done in our lives--and we travel quite a bit, folks. In summary, if you're within five hundred miles of that island, do it. Especially if you're on your own journey to the Force.
Hopefully Rey's journey pans out better than Luke's when The Last Jedi releases in December. Regardless, all I know is the Force is definitely strong with Skellig Michael.
I'm a sci-fi/fantasy lover & writer who especially likes talking about Star Wars and futuristic tech. I like finding new things & finding the beauty in old things, especially in my "Everyday Snippets" series. I hope you'll join me on my blog and unleash your imagination!