By Niall McArdle
Filming of scenes for the new Star Wars film began today on Skellig Michael, a barren island in the Atlantic Ocean off the Irish coast. Secrecy surrounds the new movie: nobody knows where in a galaxy far, far way the island is supposed to be, or which characters hang out there (although Mark Hamill was seen nearby).
The choice of the rugged island is not without controversy. Skellig Michael is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because of a monastery built in the Dark Ages by ascetic monks (sort of the Jedi of their time):
Located at the western edge of the European landmass, Skellig Michael was the chosen destination for a small group of ascetic monks who, in their pursuit of greater union with God, withdrew from civilisation to this remote and inaccessible place. Some time between the sixth and eight centuries, a monastery was founded on this precipitous rock giving rise to one of the most dramatic examples of the extremes of Christian monasticism.
According to UNESCO, the island has
outstanding universal value being an exceptional, and in many respects unique example of an early religious settlement deliberately sited on a pyramidal rock in the ocean, preserved because of a remarkable environment. It illustrates, as no other site can, the extremes of a Christian monasticism characterizing much of North Africa, the Near East and Europe.
So why is there a film crew tramping all over the place? UNESCO is asking why one of its treasured sites is being used this way, even if only for a few days. The Irish Film Board says that filming “has been designed specifically to avoid disturbance of breeding birds on the island.”