The spectacular island that hosted Star Wars The Force Awakens' final scene

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. If you are yet to see it, look away now!

In the final scene of the new blockbuster Star Wars movie, our hero Rey (Daisy Ridley) arrives on a spectacular, rugged island on a planet in a remote part of the galaxy. 

Climbing a hill she spots a lone figure in a cloak gazing out over a cliff. The figure slowly turns to face her, and the audience, to reveal it is none other than the hero of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill. 

This incredible setting for the (almost literal) cliffhanger ending of The Force Awakens is no fantasy realm. If Star Wars creator George Lucas was still at the helm of the franchise, his love of computer-generated special effects might have resulted in this island being filled with giant alien birds, purple grass and floating rocks. 

Instead, The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams opted to use a real location for the final scene of his film - the island of Skellig Michael off the coast of Ireland.

Skellig Michael is located in the Atlantic Ocean about 12 km southwest of Valentia Island, County Kerry.

The island has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the early Christian monastery located on its slopes that's more than 1400 years old. The monks withdrew from society and relocated to the island to dedicate themselves to spiritual pursuits (which might also explain why the producers of The Force Awakens chose the site to be the refuge of Luke Skywalker). 

The remote nature of the island and the difficulty of reaching it has meant visitors were very rare. As a result, the site is extremely well preserved. 

The site is one of only two World Heritage sites in Ireland. The other is Brú na Bóinne, the site of prehistoric tombs.

The island is also one of the country's best spots for seabirds, with large and diverse colonies. 

The Skellig Experience is an information centre on the mainland in Valentia where visitors can learn more about the island and book a cruise around the imposing rock. 

Visitors can take a boat to the island from Knightstown (Valentia), Portmagee, Ballinskelligs and Caherdaniel and the round trip, including the visit, takes about five hours. There is a guide service available, based at the monastery. 

Visitors to the island are warned that the steps leading up the rock and the precipitous drops can be dangerous (families are warned not to bring small children ashore).

The release of the new Star Wars film is bound to increase interest in Skellig Michael, but tourists may find reaching the craggy rock a little more difficult than simply touching a spaceship down on its shores. 

See also: The real-life home of Star Wars
See also: Do travellers really care about UNESCO World Heritage status?