Strolling through the sleepy, pretty village of Portmagee in Ireland, you wouldn’t think that is was the epicentre of filming for one of the world’s most famous films, Star Wars. Portmagee was a key filming location for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi in recent years and now fans of the force can come and experience Star Wars in Portmagee with my Star Wars Film Locations Ireland guide to Portmagee.Portmagee was a key filming location for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi in recent years and now fans of the force can come and experience Star Wars in Portmagee, Ireland. Click To Tweet
The location scouts were said to be so impressed with the beauty of the ‘Wild Atlantic Way‘, that several locations on the western edge of Ireland were used for filming including Kerry, Cork and Donegal. Ireland has wisely capitalised on this pop culture connection and has started organising Star Wars related festivals for fans that feature a range of activities.
I recently attended the first ‘May the 4th festival’ in Portmagee a three-day festival, organised by national tourism body Fáilte Ireland that centres May the 4th, widely known as the day fans celebrate all things Star Wars. During the festival, there were screenings of the Star Wars films, activities for children and a céilí featuring Irish dancers in Star Wars costume. There was also the chance for force fans to follow in the footsteps of star Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) in a cheeky pint-pulling challenge. I have created a little guide on the area and a roundup of the festival, so you can go and find the force in Portmagee.
Stay at The Moorings
The Moorings has everything you might expect from a hotel in Ireland, friendly staff, a cosy atmosphere and a buzzing bar. You can also eat in their award-winning Seafood Restaurant or sink a pint of Guinness in the Bridge Bar, the very same bar where Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley had a tipple or two during the filming of The Last Jedi. Obviously, I went into crazy fangirl mode and I am sure I wore out the staff with my endless questions, “Which chair exactly did Mark Hamill sit in? Did he talk about Carrie Fisher’s affair with Harrison Ford? I need details!”
Upon check in I was informed that during my stay there would be ‘traditional Irish music and dancing’ on the Friday and Saturday night, as there is every week and that it was ‘quite lively’. This was an understatement. It seemed as if the entire village had decamped to the pub to dance to loud traditional Irish music [which to an outsider like me appeared to be the same tune played for 6 hours straight], sup on Guinness and cackle the whole night. If you are looking for a peaceful weekend away, this might not be the place for you, however, if you are willing to get your dancing shoes on and join in with ‘the craic’, then this offers a little glimpse into life in a small Irish village.
The Moorings was at the epicentre of the May the 4th festival, with costumed characters posing outside the hotel and then popping in and out of the bar and taking selfies with fans and guests. It’s great to see a small fishing village celebrate a connection with something as iconic as Star Wars and for local businesses to get behind the fandom and join in enthusiastically.
Take a boat trip around Skellig Michael
Star Wars fanatics have the option of sailing around the isolated island of Skellig Michael, on an organised boat trip from Portmagee. This rocky and uninhabited island is located 12 miles off the southwest of Co Kerry and where ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’ were filmed. At certain times of the year, you can also dock at the Unesco World Heritage Site and visit the stone beehive-shaped huts, that were built as part of a monastery in the 6th century. These huts were also used in the filming of the last Jedi as the island is the location of the first Jedi temple in the film.
I went for a sail around Skellig Michael its twin Little Skellig as part of the Star Wars festival. I was fizzing with excitement at the prospect of getting a snap of the location where Luke Skywalker meets Rey. We boarded a small fishing vessel and sailed out of the peaceful harbour. “It’s going to be a wee bit of a rough sail” announced the captain cheerfully, though glancing across the calm harbour waters I was puzzled as to how that was going to be the case? And then we entered the Atlantic Ocean.
We went from serene sheltered waters to the raging swell of the Atlantic seemingly instantly. As I sat on the rocking vessel, wondering if I had my affairs in order, I remembered my father’s sage advice on seasickness, “Always look to the horizon”. Father had failed to mention what happens if you cannot see the horizon as the boat is swaying from side to side in messy waves.
Needless to say, I was most unwell and was sick several times off the side of the boat, whilst also attempting to cling on for dear life. My nausea was only slightly alleviated when or boat stated being followed by dolphins, ever the professional I somehow managed to snap a few photos of them, whilst having a little sick at the same time. Not all heroes wear capes.
We slowed down on approach to Skellig Micheal and our captain started to tell us about the island as well as a bit about the local wildlife as the boat bobbed about. Whilst the sea was choppy and my nausea had reached a frankly critical level, it was still marvellous to gaze up at that sheep rock and contemplate the isolation and the life that clings to that giant slab of rock.
As the boat started to return to Portmagee, I managed to pull myself together enough for a ‘boat photograph’ taken by a kindly Irish lady. As I disembarked the boat she leaned in and whispered: “I have never seen anyone throw up with that much grace”. This might be one of the most unusual compliments I have ever received, but at that moment, I was prepared to take it. I’m sure not all sailings are as eventful as the one I took but I would strongly recommend popping some sea sickness pills when going on your Star Wars pilgrimage on the Atlantic, just in case. The islands are beautifully remote and it was also a joy to watch the dolphins jump beside our boat.
Explore Bray’s Head
On an average day, you can talk a scenic and peaceful walk to Bray’s head, on the southern tip of Valentia island. The day I visited, the May the 4th festival was in full swing with a Drive-in Movie Screening of Star Wars, The Last Jedi. There was no gentle stroll and quiet contemplation to be had here, with Star Wars characters roaming around as well as hordes of media capturing the festivities.
Despite the large screen and the crowds, I could still appreciate the beautiful views and dramatic cliffs in this pretty location. When the skies are clear you can see across to the Skellig Islands, the Blasket islands and Dingle Peninsula. I made a mental note to return in the future to properly hike the area.
After having a photo with my favourite character Kylo Ren, it was time to sit in the hire car and enjoy the film. I have long been a fan of immersive and experiential cinema experiences and it was a proper treat to actually see one of the locations from the movie [Luke’s hideout Skellig Michael] in the distance. I have actually never been to a drive-in movie as they aren’t that common in the UK but I really loved how it felt like a proper event, like people had come together, albeit many in Wookie outfits.
Visit the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre
This rugged little visitor centre is populated by cheerful and informative staff and the sort of retro dioramas that just melt my heart. The Skellig Experience Visitor Centre was developed by Cork Kerry Tourism in the early nineties to educate visitors on the wild Skellig islands. There is a cafe serving teas, coffees and traditional Irish food at the centre, as well as a gift shop, where you can buy local souvenirs and Star Wars-themed gifts.
The purpose centre really does blend in with the surroundings with its stone cladding and grass-topped roof mirroring the local habitat. The centre is split into several themes, explaining the history and archaeology of Skellig Michael and its Early Christian monastery dwellers. There is also information on the seabirds and local wildlife as well as stories of the lighthouse keepers of the island.
The museum also contains information and a 14-minute film presentation about the ‘beehive” huts on Skellig Michael and the Christian monks that lived in them. Upon arriving on the harsh and remote island in the 6th century the monks built these functional and spiritual dwellings using the local rocks. It is an extraordinary testament to faith and to the survival skills of the monks, who were able to live in such an unforgiving environment. I tend to have a meltdown when the WiFi goes down in my house, I can’t begin to fathom living in a stone hut on top of a rock.
During my visit, various Star Wars related activities were happening as part of the ‘May the 4th be with you’ festival. There were tiny stormtroopers running around, craft activities and costumed characters roaming around. Some visitors had travelled from miles away to be a part of the festival, such is the fandom commitment to the force!
Admire the view from the Kerry Cliffs
Whilst you are in Portmagee, I would recommend taking a stroll up the Kerry Cliffs to see some spectacular views. The 1,000 feet high cliffs offer stunning views of the Skellig Islands and Puffin Island as well as the raging Atlantic below.
The cliffs are approximately 3km from Portmagee village and you can drive, or take a long afternoon walk as I did to reach them. I wandered past pretty houses, sheep and waving locals as I admired the coastal views and basked in the tranquillity of the beautiful surroundings.
The Kerry Cliffs do come with an entrance fee of €4 per person, which may strike you as a little odd, being charged to go and look at cliffs? This is because the land leading up to the cliffs is privately owned. The area has an indoor and outdoor coffee shop, serving food and refreshments and a car park that’s included in the charge. Initially, I was a little sceptical, but after trekking to the top of the cliffs I thought the 30-mile views were absolutely worth the cost.
Sample the local cuisine
Whilst staying in Portmagee make sure you take the time to eat your way around the small selection of cafes, pubs and restaurants in the village and surrounding area. Being a seaside town, it’s hardly a surprise that seafood features heavily on local menus. At the Moorings Restaurant you can order fresh fish, pork dishes or sample scrumptious ‘Atlantic Seafood & Shellfish Chowder’, served with artisan bread.
The Moorings Restaurant is committed to using local produce where possible, including locally produced vegetables and Irish beef. Typical À la carte offerings include ‘Irish Pork Fillet’, ‘Wild Atlantic Way Seafood Platter’ and ‘Moorings Seafood Risotto, with fresh Atlantic salmon, cod & prawns, Cromane mussels and Portmagee crab claws’. Expect to pay around €23-€35 for a main course.
A good lunch option in Portmagee is the Smuggler’s cafe. Grab a window seat if you can at this charming cafe and have a lazy lunch as you watch village life go by. I would really recommend the fish and chips, a generous portion of crispy battered cod, served with chips, lemon tartar and salad garnish for €14.95. Other menu items include Seafood Tagliatelle, Super Salad and Goats cheese ciabatta. Just be aware that there is a €20 limit on a credit card and treat yourself to a slap-up lunch!
Another lovely lunch option is The Fisherman’s Bar, where you can sit on the benches outside and enjoy a seafood platter in the sunshine. For evening drinks the Bridge Bar is a lively spot for a tipple or three! You can sit in the bar or slip outside with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down over the pretty village. Don’t forget to visit Skelligs Chocolate whilst you are in the area. You can learn how their chocolate is made whilst sampling delicious little chocolate treats, made by their talented chocolatiers.
A trip to Portmagee is certainly a must for any Star Wars fan, or as part of an epic road trip through the stunning ‘Wild Atlantic Way‘. This is a 2,500km stretch of coastal and scenic roads through Ireland. This route will take you through towns that are bursting with character, beautiful bays, sheer cliffs and ocean views. You can drive the route end to end or just explore parts of it, including Portmagee. Sci-fi and fantasy fans should also check out the Game of Thrones locations in Ireland, as many iconic scenes from the series were filmed in Ireland.
If you are a Star Wars fanatic, you might want to start planning your trip for May next year as chances are they will be holding another May the 4th festival. Portmagee is a tiny seaside village, so you’ll need to book your lodging in advance if you want to come and find the force here.
Even if you aren’t a wannabe Jedi, this is still a fantastic area to visit, especially for outdoor enthusiasts who can enjoy long walks and pretty scenery. I would highly recommend coming to this charming part of Ireland and treading in the footsteps of Star Wars legends. “Go mbeidh an fórsa leat! — May the force be with you!” What do you think of my guide to Star Wars Film Locations Ireland? Would you visit Portmagee and seek out filming locations? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks to national tourism body Fáilte Ireland for organising my trip to Portmagee.