Can the "hidden gem" that is the West of Ireland actually stay hidden after The Last Jedi? 4 years ago

Can the "hidden gem" that is the West of Ireland actually stay hidden after The Last Jedi?

Go raibh an fórsa libh.

There are a few reasons why Dingle is very famous. The Other Voices music festival, the world renowned seafood, but more than all of those, everyone is aware of Dingle's most famous member, Fungi The Dolphin.

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One of the first things we hear about Dingle when we arrive is Fungi, and how he may no longer be the most well known local going forward. A male who separated himself from the world as he knows it, to live a quiet life of solitude, and inspire awe in anyone who may cross his paths. Yep, Fungi and Luke Skywalker have more than a little bit in common.

At the tail end of The Force Awakens in 2015, we caught a glimpse of the alien planet Ahch-To, the hideaway planet of Mark Hamill's last Jedi, and immediately we knew that Kerry and the majority of the Wide Atlantic Way was about to be changed forever.

Picking up after the four days that JJ Abrams filmed on the island for that first new sequel, new director Rian Johnson returned to Skellig Michael for an additional four days of shooting, before building a replica of the island on the coast near Dingle, as well as more of the west coast all the way up from Kerry to Donegal.

While filming on and near the ancient, iconic island, the production company set up a base of operations in Portmagee (which changed its name to Porgmagee in the lead up to the release of Episode XIII), and everyone in the village had a story to tell.

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The local pubs talk about Mark Hamill getting behind the bar to pull a pint, or Daisy Ridley getting up on the dance floor to perform an almighty jig, or director Rian Johnson falling in love with the local wildlife. In fact, there was only one person they had vaguely negative things to say about - they don't say their name, but simple deduction will allow you to figure it out - as locals were confused as to why they'd be wandering around the small fishing villages with a massive security detail.

Having seen the movie, Ireland features prominently, and entirely throughout. The almost-alien landscape that is pretty much unique to this part of the world fits in perfectly with the galaxy far, far away. Skellig Michael itself is obviously the highlight; the unique angles and colours of the island, matched with the once-in-a-lifetime views of the sunrises and sunsets, is absolutely beautiful on the big screen.

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Clip via wildatlanticway

For those who see Skellig Michael and want to visit in real life, they can either check it out from a distance (complete with nearby immersive museum dedicated to the island in Portmagee), or can head over on a boat - but only between May and September, and even then the choppy seas can't guarantee it - or, for the more lavish amongst you, there is a private helicopter tour of the islands and the surrounding areas.

Thursday, 14 December saw the launch of Ireland's first Star Wars Festival in Dingle, running straight through to Sunday, 17 December, and will likely be the first year of a long-running festival.

But that shouldn't be the reason why tourists arrive. Absolutely, the new Star Wars will likely make people more aware of the area, but the reason people should visit should be the same reasons why Disney and Lucasfilm chose to film there in the first place: the unparalleled landscape, the incomparably friendly atmosphere of the locals, and the attractions that had Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and co. talking non-stop about the region over a year after they left.

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'Pop Culture Pilgrimage', or going on a holiday to a famous movie or TV filming location, is continuing to be a massive growth industry, something Ireland is already well aware of thanks to Game Of Thrones.

However, due to The Last Jedi, that is about to explode even more, which is both a blessing and a burden, as these beautiful parts of Ireland will be pushed into a certain level of popularity that they perhaps should not achieve. Even the locals want to keep a cap on the number of visitors, as they love the idea of sharing the secrets of the area... but not too much.

There's the Skellig Chocolate factory, a visit to some of the "bee-hive" homes that are scattered along the coast and are identical to those found on the island, the different ways to take on the unique views of the Wild Atlantic Way, from walks to bike rides to driving. There are the cafes and pubs and hotels, all of which come armed with their own interpretation of what life was like while Star Wars was filming there.

Unlike, say, the famous shore from The Beach, which was soon overrun with tourists and is no longer the secret hideaway it once was, with Skellig and Dingle and Porgmagee Portmagee and the majority of the Wild Atlantic Way, there is a certain balance to be struck.

And finding that balance will be the most important thing.

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Oh, hang on... finding a balance to determine the future... where have we heard that before?