Archaeologist fear for “fragile” UNESCO protected environment of Skellig Michael after "Star Wars" descends.Tourism Ireland

Ireland’s tourism numbers will shoot for the stars next year with the help of a little force. The force, in fact, as thanks to the recent visit of the Episode VII “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” film crew to Co. Kerry, the area is set to attract a whole new wave of travelers.

The mystic Skellig Michael, an uninhabited pinnacle of rock with the ruins of an ancient monastery, rises 230 meters above the sea just 11 miles from the small Kerry fishing town of Portmagee and was named as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

And now, it is believed to feature in one of the greatest of movie franchise—Star Wars—showcasing the magnificent Skellig Island on the silver screen. Further proof that the countryside in Kerry is just out of this world.

With Star Wars Episode VII set for release on December 18, Tourism Ireland hope that the inclusion of Skellig Michael in the hugely popular franchise will show the beauty of Ireland to a new audience and attract visitors in the manner that Game of Thrones has attracted large numbers of fans of the HBO show to Northern Ireland.

The increase in tourism predicted will see 8.2 million visit Ireland next year, a four per cent increase on 2015 which has already been a record year for Irish tourism. The increase in visitors is expected to bring a further $4.7 billion to the Irish economy.

In 2014 Skellig Michael received visitors from a galaxy far far away.

In 2014 Skellig Michael received visitors from a galaxy far far away.

“The release of Star Wars Episode VII – which will feature Skellig Michael – also presents Tourism Ireland with a truly unique opportunity to highlight the South West and Ireland in 2016,” Tourism Ireland said.

Already set to be a box office success, they hope to build on this to attract more people to Ireland and work with Lucasfilm (the film’s producer, now owned by Disney) to promote the site which is also believed to feature in a further Star Wars film for 2017.

“Early next year, we will leverage the huge global popularity of Star Wars, following the upcoming launch of Star Wars Episode VII. And we will work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to highlight Ireland 2016 to people everywhere – showcasing major new attractions and the year’s signature events.”

“Star Wars Episode VII is possibly the most anticipated film of all time, with pre-opening ticket sales beating all previous records. Skellig Michael is one of the very few ‘real world’ locations to feature in the movie – providing Tourism Ireland with a truly unique opportunity to promote the Skelligs and the broader Wild Atlantic Way.

“Tourism Ireland has worked with Lucasfilm (the producer) to capture the film on location on Skellig Michael and will launch a dedicated Star Wars campaign in early January.”

In 2014, Skellig Michael was overtaken by Hollywood film crews as Star War landed on the small island bringing stars such as Mark Hamill to southwest Ireland.

The crew returned again earlier this year despite protests from An Taisce and other environmental protesters who claimed that the set put the natural habitat of the islands and its sixth century monastery at risk.

Irish Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys granted permission, however, and a two mile exclusion zone was placed around the islands patrolled by an Irish navy vessel while locals privy to aspects of the filming were required to sign non-disclosure agreements.

The monastic site on Skellig Michael.

The monastic site on Skellig Michael.

The larger of the two Skellig Islands located to the southwest of Valentia Island, Co. Kerry, Skellig Michael is not a tourist destination for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights as small steps cut into the rock by Irish monks centuries ago lead upwards towards an world-famous and incredible well-preserved early Christian monastic site.

Braving the natural force of the Atlantic is well worth the struggle for those who make it to the island, although the two pinnacles of rock are mesmerizing to see from any point on the nearby Ring of Kerry for those who don’t fancy a bout of sea-sickness.

Tourism Ireland’s 2016 campaign will also see a continued emphasis on massively successful Wild Atlantic Way on top of the appeal to attract Star War’s fans while also building on Ireland’s Ancient East and its capital city, Dublin.

Irish Minister for Tourism Paschal Donohoe revealed that by 2025, Ireland can expect as many as 10 million tourists a year.

Skellig Islands. Image: Getty images.

Skellig Islands. Image: Getty images.