Why Skellig Michael is the Ultimate Pilgrimage for Star Wars Fans
Star Wars puts the ‘fan’ in ‘fanatical’ as it boasts some of the movie industry’s most enthusiastic enthusiasts! And, while many still debate whether Greedo or Han shot first (it was Han) or whether the Ewoks are actually good (not touching this one), the die-hard Star Wars fans are booking vacations to the West Coast of Ireland to visit the planet of Ahch-To, where Luke Skywalker had hidden himself from the First Order. Ahch-To is also known as Skellig Michael, a stunning Irish mountain island jutting straight out of the Atlantic Ocean, and the site of an ancient monastery dating as far back as the sixth century. Skellig Michael is well worth visiting, even if you’re not a big Star Wars fan, but that’s not why you’ve clicked on this article. You want to know why Skellig Michael is the ultimate pilgrimage for Star Wars fans…
Star Wars Episode VII & VIII Sparked Huge Rise in Visitors to Skellig Michael
Skellig Michael has been a popular tourist destination since the 70s, but the weather and the choppy ocean between mainland Ireland and Skellig Michael has meant that only determined tourists were able to visit. It’s a beautiful location to visit and its long history as a monastic site, dating back to the 6th century, earned Skellig Michael its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. However, after the island’s starring role in the last scene in The Force Awakens and many scenes in The Last Jedi, it has become an extremely popular tourist destination. This additional attention is great, but just as long as the tourism is sustainable. That’s why it’s important that companies like Overland Ireland make every effort to practice responsible tourism. We love Ireland, we love Skellig Michael, and we’re dedicated to protecting it.
A Monastery Fit for a Jedi Master
The real-life monastery itself is a very fitting location for the fictional Jedi’s hideout as the Jedi have always been styled as monks — albeit kick-ass space monks with laser swords. Think about it: the long brown robes, the abstinence from marriage, the religious dedication to the invisible, unknowable force that permeates the universe… The Jedi are monks and the knowledge that the settlement at Skellig Michael was an ancient Irish monastery just adds another layer of depth to the experience. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a more fitting retreat for the galaxy’s last Jedi. And there is something seemingly ancient about the monastery that fits perfectly with the ancient Jedi Order. It may be the best on-location film decisions in decades (or ever).
Puffins: Meet Planet Earth’s Porgs
Another big reason to visit Skellig Michael is to see the huge numbers of puffins that visit the island in spring. The puffins roost, breed, and rear their pufflings (the genuine name for a baby puffin). The huge number of puffins are worth seeing in their own right, but it’s worth noting that they were a problem for the filmmakers who couldn’t have an Earth bird as recognisable as a puffin on a planet in a galaxy far far away. There were simply far too many puffins in Skellig Michael for Director Rian Johnson to edit out in post-production, so he found a novel solution by employing the help of creature concept designer Jake Lunt Davies. Davies was challenged to design an animal that they could superimpose on top of any rogue puffins that appeared in the footage they captured on the island. He took inspiration from puffins, obviously, but he also allowed himself to be inspired by seals and pugs. The result was the infinitely charming porg. While Ireland does not yet have the technology to genetically engineer porgs and install them on Skellig Michael, puffins are cute and charming enough to delight visitors in the meantime!
Escape from the First Order on this Remote Planet/Island
The monastery at Skellig Michael is remarkably well preserved, given that it was completed and dedicated to Saint Michael as far back as 1044 AD. This preservation is down to the fact that people found it very difficult to visit, due to its remoteness, the treacherous waters, and the wild winds and weather on the stretch of water between the island and the coast of Kerry. Skellig Michael is almost as out of the way and difficult to get to as the planet Ahch-To Luke escaped to, and this gives the location an additional layer for Star Wars fans, as the process of getting on a boat and making the journey to the island really does feel like you’re venturing off into unknown lands in search of Luke Skywalker. You may even like to pretend you are Rey, but no tour guide will insist on this…
Climb the Same Steps Rey Climbed
If you’d like to take your Rey impersonation to the next level, you can climb the 600+ steps that are built into the ancient rock. The steps lead up to the top of the mountainous island and to the ancient monastery based there. Climb the steps as Rey climbed them and it will be difficult not to feel at least a little connected to the galaxy’s latest lightsaber-wielding heroine. As an added bonus for making the trek, you’ll find the views from the top of Skellig Michael absolutely out of this world.
Planning your Own Jedi Pilgrimage to Skellig Michael
Skellig Michael was one of Ireland’s many treasures long before Luke Skywalker took refuge there, but its status as the most iconic set in the sequel trilogy is another fantastic reason to visit. People can only ever visit the island on day trips, and the number of visits is carefully controlled in order to mitigate over-tourism. Overland Ireland is one of a select number of Ireland tour companies that work with the 15 exclusive boat operators with permission to bring guests to Skellig Michael. You can embark on a day trip to Skellig Michael as part of our wider Ireland to Island Tour from Dublin.
We know that a trip-of-a-lifetime to Ireland takes a lot of planning and deliberation, so we thought we’d help anyone out who is thinking about visiting Ireland and the incredible Skellig Michael. We’re helping make the decision easier by creating a collection of articles and guides written exclusively for anyone who signs up. This isn’t a hard sell — just a collection of useful (and fun) guides about Ireland. If this sounds like good craic (Irish for fun), then please sign up today using the form below. And if you have any questions for us whatsoever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Start planning and researching your ultimate Star Wars pilgrimage with a little help from Overland Ireland!
Sign-up to our Overland Ireland Travel Guides
Receive travel guides direct from our head tour guide Reinier!