To those that follow me it might go without saying but, I am, indeed, a huge Star Wars geek. I saw all the movies in the theater and even took my son to opening nights for all the remastered versions. However, with work and just being an adult, I’ve been slacking.
But not today! Today I finally get to see the new Star Wars movie. I know, I’m severely behind the times. It came out in theaters 2 weeks ago. Hey, at least this time I actually get to see it in the theater instead of my usual wait until it’s been out on Hulu or Netflix for a year and remember ‘I wanted to see that.’
While waiting for my brief break from reality (aka the movie) I started going back through all the previous Star Wars films leading up to this final installment. Do you remember that amazing little island that Luke was on in the Last Jedi? The one that Rae had to climb all those stairs only to see Luke turn around and very dramatically… say nothing. Then we watched Luke train Rae to be better than all the rest. Yeah… that one.
Picture it. Ireland: 2017. Our fabulous group of traveling quilters were in a bus winding our way around the Ring of Kerry. As we came around the bend our guide extraordinaire Agnes asked if anyone on the bus likes Star Wars. Umm. YES! My hand went up faster than a kid who was asked if anyone wants ice cream.
As she pointed out the window to a pair of islands just off the coast, she explained we were looking at the Skellig islands. Skellig Michael is also known today as ‘Luke’s island’ from Star Wars.
Oh my goodness. I instantly turned into that 14-year-old fan girl at a New Kids on the Block concert and LEAPT across the seat to take pictures. My poor roommate was sitting next to me and I may have crushed her legs just a bit. But, hey, this was Star Wars people. We were literally in the presence of an actual location that one of these amazing movies was filmed. Mark Hamill was standing on that very spot. I still get a little excited just thinking about it.
What are the Skellig Islands?
So, what are the Skellig islands? Well, prior to their Star Wars fame, they actually have a pretty fascinating history. Around 600 AD a group of Catholics moved out to the islands to escape the Penal Laws that were imposed on mainland Ireland and Britain.
Later, the larger of the 2 islands, Skellig Michael, became home to one of the earliest monastic settlements in Ireland. Over many many years they built the steep and winding staircase that leads to the summit where they lived in beehive shaped huts made from the island’s limestone.
“The monks of St. Fionan’s monastery led simple lives and lived in stone, beehive shaped huts. They would descend the 670 steps early every morning and fish for the morning’s breakfast and would spend the rest of the day praying in the church, tending to their gardens and studying. The huts, which are round on the outside and rectangular on the inside, were carefully built so that no drop of rain ever entered between the stones.” *
The monks also carved basic pools in the limestone that would collect rain water for them to drink and cook with. To say life was difficult on the island would be an understatement. But, they believed their sacrifices allowed them to be closer to God.
Changes on the Islands
During the 9th and 10th centuries, while the Vikings raided Ireland, Skellig Michael was no exception. They were ravaged as many as 4 times by the Norse invaders.
Finally, in the 12th or 13th century, the island was abandoned and eventually became a pilgrimage for believers and non-believers alike. Today the islands are official bird sanctuaries that house the second largest Gannet colony in the world as well as Fulmars, Arctic Tern and, of course, the Puffins. The same Puffins that inspired the Porgs from the Star Wars movie.
Because the island is a regulated sanctuary for these birds, the filmmakers literally could not move them during filming. So, the designers came up with an alternative plan. Using a little Star Wars magic, the cute and cuddly Porgs were born. Forget lemons. When life hands you Puffins, make Porgs.
Wanna go see the Skellig Islands?
Did you know you can actually visit the islands? It’s true! You too can step foot on the same island as Luke Skywalker. However, there are a couple things to keep in mind.
- The island is only open for visitors May through September.
- Pee before you leave! There are no toilets on the island.
- Wear GOOD walking shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking.
- Make reservations for your visit well in advance as they sell out quickly.
- Bring a back pack with water, a snack or small lunch and a water proof / rain jacket. There are no refreshments on the island.
- Be aware of all the safety measures they give you as the island is very dangerous and there are no handrails for your climb.
- Be prepared for possible cancellations as the weather and choppy seas are very unpredictable.
- Lastly and very important: If you suffer from bouts of vertigo or have any trouble climbing stairs, unfortunately, this may not be the trip for you as there are hundreds of stairs to climb to get to the monastery that go basically straight up in places. There are no handrails and the rocks can be slippery. We want everyone to come home safe and sound!
*To see more about the Islands and book a tour, check out their website: Skelligislands.com.
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