The highly anticipated new ‘Star Wars’ film has just begun shooting on Skellig Michael, the remote, historical monastic island off the coast of County Kerry that has recently been on everyone’s radar. Flocking fans, confidentiality contracts, wildlife conservationists and general excitement surround the filming.
Tight security measures have been taken to bar fans who have appeared in the area. In addition, wildlife conservationists are concerned with the filming’s potential to disrupt mating habits of Skellig Michael’s native birds. Species include puffins, peregrine falcons and guillemots, all of which breed at this time of year.
"It would have been preferable if filming took place out of the breeding season, in September, when I believe it was originally scheduled," Dr. Steve Newton of BirdWatch Ireland told Radio Kerry.
However, CEO of the Irish Film Board James Hickey said the schedule was "designed specifically to avoid disturbance of breeding birds" and was approved by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The island is on lockdown for the next couple of days, completely closed off to the public while director JJ Abrams works his magic. An Irish navy ship is stationed by the island to make sure no other boats comes too close. Abrams, whose wife comes from Sligo, is enamored with Ireland and its people, and actively scouted Irish locations for the film.
“Ireland is an amazing location, with such incredible variety in the landscape. We’ve been scouting locations and we’re very excited and hopeful,” he told the Irish Daily Mail. “I saw shades of green I’ve never seen in my life anywhere and cliffs more dramatic than anything I could imagine.
“My love for Ireland has deepened and grown, and collaboration is something that I’m very excited about. So many brilliant composers, artists and filmmakers have come from there.”
A private jet of 16 crew and entourage members arrived at Kerry Airport at 10:30 a.m. yesterday, and were brought to the quiet village of Portmagee for lunch before boarding boats to the island. The village has been buzzing for the last week – hundreds of people have come to try to catch a glimpse of the action.
Local hotels, B&Bs and private houses have been booked out for the week, and their owners have been bound by confidentiality contracts – a photograph of JJ Abrams posing with a local fan was removed from social media at the request of the production company.
The boatmen who normally make a living transporting visitors to and from the island are being compensated with €1,000 ($1,340) per day as the filming restricts their tourism business.