Watching the new Star Wars movie — The Force Awakens — the other night, I was startled, and pleased, to see one of my favorite places in the world as the setting for the dramatic last scene.
(I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t see the film, but I can recommend the movie to any baby boomers who liked the initial trilogy, called Episodes IV to VI. Several of the old stars have returned, and the plot, characters, and general feel are much like a combination of the first three in the series.)
The place setting for the last scene is the spectacularly beautiful rocky island Skellig Michael (also known as Great Skellig), which lies about seven miles off the coast of southwest Ireland.
I visited there about 12 years ago on a walking tour of the Iveragh peninsula in County Kerry, which features some of the world’s most memorable coastal scenery. We set off in a small boat from the village of Portmagee on a gorgeous blue-sky day. We were warned that if the weather conditions didn’t remain near-perfect, we would never be able to land on Skellig Michael, since the docking facilities were extremely primitive.
We were in luck, though our tour leader wasn’t kidding about the primitive dock. As our boat bobbed precariously up and down in the waves, the captain grabbed our arms and pulled us onto the small wooden platform, which led to a winding trail of steep, hand-carved stone steps — the same steps that Rey (the film’s young female lead character) followed up the island.
As we made our way along our own strenuous climb to the top, we passed a series of spartan stone beehive huts and stone walls and terraces, some dating from as long as 1,400 years ago (the huts also make a brief appearance in the movie) and stopped to enter some, look around, and muse over their very unlikely existence.
Skellig Michael was inhabited for centuries by ascetic monks who sought escape from worldly life, and here, out in the remote, often storm-tossed North Atlantic, they found their solitude. Because of its importance as a prime example of early Christian monastic architecture and culture, Skelling Michael has earned recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Picnicking near the top of the island — with views extending to the Irish coast as well as to other nearby islands — we also unanimously agreed that Skelling Michael would make any list of top global scenic wonders.
As we ate our sandwiches and sipped from our water bottles, we also drank in the remarkable scene all around us: the winding trails, the historic stone structures, the vivid greenery of the landscape and blue of the ocean, the craggy outcroppings, the seabirds circling overhead.
In such moments I like to close my eyes briefly and take a mental “snapshot” of the surroundings, hoping that I can remember them forever — and when I watched the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens it all came streaming back to me.
Will mass tourism inevitably follow to this once largely inaccessible Irish island? Star Wars fans are already planning pilgrimages.
In some ways, I hope the primitive docking facilities — if they still exist after the invasion of Star Wars film crews — along with sketchy weather and UNESCO designation (which requires strict environmental safeguards) remain something of a barrier, so that at the very least Skellig Michael doesn’t devolve into a Disney-style Star Wars theme park.
At the same time, it’s a place that every dedicated world traveler should see.
I know that if I hadn’t been there, I’d be adding it to my bucket list right now. And yes, I’d love to go back.
Maybe I’ll see you there, if The Force is with us.
Travel Tip of the Day: for more information on other Star Wars film locations, go to the blog at StrideTravel.com
For the best guided tours to some favorite Star Wars locations, see this page at StrideTravel.com
For some amusing Star Wars trivia, see Star Wars by the Numbers at StrideTravel.com
And for all your other guided tour and small-ship cruise planning for 2016, go to StrideTravel.com — filled with exceptional travel ideas from around the globe