The Office of Public Works (OPW) has confirmed that the Skellig Michael World Heritage Site will remain closed and not open to visitors in 2020 because of COVID–19 concerns and the consequent risks to both staff and visitors.
The OPW had undertaken, following the original closure decision in early May, to review the position in the light of changing circumstances and where the Government had announced a relaxation of certain measures designed to reopen tourism attractions in particular. Having consulted with a number of parties both inside the OPW’s Heritage Service and externally, officials yesterday (Thursday) announced that it would not be feasible to open the famous island site for the remainder of the scheduled visitor season as the risks involved in both the boat voyage and the visitor experience on the island itself cannot be addressed sufficiently to guarantee the safety of both visitors and OPW staff.
“Opening of this important heritage site had originally been scheduled to take place on May 15, but that was obviously cancelled during the height of the lockdown,” OPW Heritage Commissioner John Mc Mahon said. “What we are announcing this week is the result of our own internal review which was designed to see if things had changed sufficiently for us to perhaps announce a late season and allow public visits during part of August and September at least. Having considered all the issues however, we have arrived at the conclusion that this is not feasible and Skellig Michael cannot be made safe from COVID-19 for either visitors or staff. Regretfully therefore, we have to confirm that the Skellig Michael site will not reopen for the remainder of the 2020 season and we must instead plan for a resumption in 2021, when we will hopefully be able to accommodate visitors at the site again.”
Normally, the Skellig Michael visitor season finishes at the end of September with experience showing that weather and sea conditions in October are considerably poorer and the site becomes generally inaccessible. The OPW has assessed however that there are multiple risks both in terms of the boat trip and the visitor path on the island itself and it is not feasible to reopen for even a limited period in August and September. Before reaching their decision, OPW consulted with local boatmen who are responsible for bringing visitors to the island and investigated with them the possible changes that might be made in order to make the visitor experience safer. However, it was clear that the scale of the challenge was such that the proposition was not feasible and the original decision to close for the entire season was reconfirmed. OPW workmen continue to remain on the island to carry out essential maintenance and other works on the island and its monuments. They will continue to travel to the island until the end of September to carry out their normal programme of works.
Kerry, and South Kerry in particular, is reeling from this latest decision to not allow visitors onto Skellig Michael for the remainder of the season says Councillor Michael Cahill.
“The refusal to allow the reopening of Skellig Michael to visitors this year is a ferocious blow to the local economy on top of everything else that has occurred. This is the sole source of income for many boatmen in the locality. Not alone that but the whole local economy is geared towards providing services to those who are drawn to the area to visit this iconic monastic settlement.”
He said that everyone understands the pandemic restrictions but it’s like attending football games etc., the boat trip takes place in the open air and with proper distancing and the wearing of face masks, should be as safe if not safer than attending a supermarket or restaurant.
“I am disappointed for all those whose livelihoods are so heavily affected and worry greatly about the knock-on affects,” he added.
The Skellig Experience Centre, located in Portmagee, is also a significant destination for visitors locally and is currently open. Additionally, local boat sightseeing trips continue to be available and are dealing with visitors currently.