Pursued and persecuted by the empire, a small band of surviving warrior monks find refuge on a rocky outpost, on the very edge of the galaxy. In solitary isolation, they train and pray, waiting the day when the Empire will fall and balance is restored to the force.
It’s no coincidence the 2015 film, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, chose the 8th century monastery on Skellig Michael as a backdrop – or that the 2017 film will return to Skellig Michael. One of the final shots in the film, Skellig Michael is the refuge of Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens (2015). George Lucas was inspired by many mythologies, cultures and countries around the world including those from Ireland when writing the original Star Wars.
The parallels between the film’s central theme and the history of Skellig Michael are fascinating. In the film, the Jedi were fleeing from the Emperor, training in forgotten corners of the galaxy.
As for the monks, it was the Dark Ages, so they were fleeing from an anti-learning culture, from bands of savages, and most notably, from the Vikings marauders, who often robbed monasteries as they were full of poorly-guarded treasures and easy targets.
In both cases, people fled to the farthest fringes of the known world, seeking isolation and finding Communion with the mighty Atlantic on Skellig Michael.
It is a sacred place. Impossible not to feel the raw power of the vast Atlantic, each step up the near-vertical stairs begs a tentative prayer from the crashing waves hundreds of feet below.
Ironically, though it is a place of peace, Skellig Michael is dedicated to Saint Michael, the warrior archangel who led an angel alliance against the fallen angel Lucifer. In many ways, the desolate Skellig Islands are weapons for both monks and Jedis: their remoteness, crashing waves, and harsh conditions protected and isolated both groups from harm befalling other parts of the world, creating a refuge to continue their ways of life.
Yet, Skellig Michael is not the only island refuge off the western coast of Ireland. At the fringes of Europe, many islands act as natural windbreakers from the crashing waves and strong winds of the Atlantic Ocean.
One must wonder if, amidst the Star Wars fever, something else hasn’t awoken in us. In the camping out of devoted fans outside cinemas worldwide, in the pilgrimage to desert film sets and now as Star Wars pilgrims flock to a holy rock in the southwest. Something powerful. Ancient. Mysterious. Something eternal.
Want more islands of Ireland? Here’s our top 15 islands