Skellig Michael feels the Force as 2,000 extra tourists visit
The Force is strong with Skellig Michael, as the remote island saw more than 16,700 visitors this year thanks to the "Star Wars effect".
The figure is around 2,000 more tourists than in 2016, the first year after the island featured as the home of Luke Skywalker in the rebooted movie franchise's smash-hit The Force Awakens.
The island - which doubles as the planet Ahch-To - is to feature more prominently in the next Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, as the location where Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, trains aspiring Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley).
However, Skellig's potential to expand further as a destination for sci-fi fans may be restricted amid an ongoing review of the length of the tourist season at the Unesco World Heritage site.
The Herald understands that an early calculation of visitor numbers shows that 16,700 people travelled to the island during the May-to-October season in 2017.
That's more than 4,000 higher than the number who visited the island and its ancient monastery during 2015, the last season before the Star Wars film came out.
Boat operators and other businesses in Co Kerry have been pushing for the season to be extended further to capitalise on the potential of its starring role in the movie saga.
Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae has previously said that, while the World Heritage site has to be protected, local businesses should be able to benefit as well and that this can only happen by extending the season.
A spokesman for the Office of Public Works last night said that work is "ongoing" to prepare the detailed review of the season dates at Skellig Michael.
"This will include an analysis of visitor numbers to the site," the spokesman said.
"The review should be completed shortly and will be submitted to Minister of State Kevin 'Boxer' Moran for a final decision."
Hamill, who also played Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy, has spoken of how filming on Skellig gave him "goosebumps".
He told SFX magazine that he got a similar feeling to when he filmed the first movie in the deserts of North Africa.
"I was looking out, and it looked unreal. I just got goosebumps again, like I was in Tunisia, where I suddenly felt like I wasn't on Earth," he said.
"I'm not a method actor where I really feel like I'm on another planet - but it was a remarkable feeling."
He said the climb on the island was "brutal" and joked that he had asked for an hour-and-a-half to get to the top.
"I had to stop every 100 steps because they're not normal steps - they're stone, and it's up and up and it just never ends. They had this big mountain climber guide behind me to catch me in case I stumbled and fell," he added.
The local puffin population also inspired a new creature in the series - the loveable Porgs. The Last Jedi is out next month.