Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi locations: Visiting Skellig Michael, Ireland, where the film will begin

Apparently, Luke Skywalker pours a mean pint of Guinness.

If you ever doubted it,  there's a picture on the wall at The Moorings pub and guesthouse in Portmagee, Ireland, to prove it. Taking pride of place in pretty much the only establishment of its kind in this tiny seaside town, the photo shows a smiling Mark Hamill posing behind the bar, one hand on the well-worn Guinness tap, another clutching an almost full glass of Ireland's finest.

Skywalker, pouring a pint in your pub. You'd want to tell the world about it. You'd want to shout it from the rooftops. Until recently, however, Gerard Kennedy, the publican at The Moorings, and the rest of this town of 109 people in southern County Kerry had to keep this titbit to themselves.

The fact Hamill was even in Portmagee was top secret. He was there (ahem – spoiler alert) to shoot the final scene of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens on nearby Skellig Michael, a sixth-century monastery perched atop a rocky outcrop just off the coast, and no one was allowed to know.

The appearance of Skywalker was to remain a secret until the film's release. And, amazingly, it did.

That was more than a year ago. But Star Wars isn't done with Skellig Michael yet. The director of Episode VIII, Rian Johnson confirmed at the recent Star Wars Celebration fan event that the sequel will kick off from the moment The Force Awakens ended. That means more scenes at the spectacular location.

When I arrive in Portmagee, it's peaceful – no film crews or movie stars, just tourists eating fish and chips by the harbour, a few trawlers chugging back into port, and hordes of seagulls trying to decide which they'll attack first.

Just across Dingle Bay, however, over on the next peninsula, there's more secret business afoot. The Star Wars juggernaut returned to County Kerry recently, just a few kilometres away in Dingle, with shooting of scenes for the eighth instalment (featuring Hamill, once again) taking place.

The public isn't allowed anywhere near that film set, which is why I have to content myself – as tens of thousands of others have done since the release of The Force Awakens – with a visit to Portmagee and to Skellig Michael.

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It would be special here even without the Star Wars connection. This is one of only two UNESCO heritage-listed  sites in Ireland, a series of 1400-year-old stone buildings set almost impossibly high on this remote, rugged island.

There are two ways to see the monastery and film location: by boat, or helicopter. You can guess which one Hamill used, and I'm starting off the same way.

It takes an hour to reach Skellig Michael by boat, but only 10 minutes by helicopter. From the air you get the perfect view of this amazing structure, this place used by monks for 600 years to withdraw from the world, to dedicate themselves to their religious studies and God.

You can also spot the locations now made famous by the film: the ancient stone staircase that the character Rey runs up, and the rock ledge where she eventually meets Skywalker. They're starkly outlined on this tiny island, which is little more than a weather-beaten shard of rock sticking out of the Atlantic Ocean.

The next day I get a close-up view of just how dedicated those monks must have been to build a monastery here, and how much of a challenge it was to cart tonnes of filmmaking equipment over for one scene.

It's dangerous on Skellig Michael. Signs posted at the port on the north of the island warn of rock falls from high above, and ancient stone staircases that have proved too steep and precarious for some.

There are several paths that lead to the summit, but only one, laid 1400 years ago and made up of more than 600 steps, is still used today. It's hard just climbing to the monastery, let alone living there for years. You feel instantly sorry for the film crew as you concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and getting to the top.

Along the way, however, there are some amazing sights: beautiful views of the ocean and the Irish mainland, as well as hundreds of puffins, cute little seabirds that call this island home. There's also the spot, about halfway up, where that final scene of Rey meeting Skywalker was shot – today, hardcore fans gather there in costume to recreate it.

But the climb continues, up through a particularly steep, narrow section of rock before finally emerging on a small plateau, where I find the monastery, those buildings that are a testament to the dedication of the monks who built them so long ago. They're beautiful, rugged, and isolated. You wonder how the monks survived here with so few supplies, and so little to do.

The Star Wars crew, meanwhile, would have been fine. There was always a quick flight back to Portmagee, with a pint of Guinness waiting.

TRIP NOTES

More information

ireland.com

GETTING THERE

Emirates flies daily from the east coast of Australia to Dublin, via Dubai. Go to emirates.com/au. From Dublin, it's a five-hour drive south to Portmagee.

STAYING THERE

The Moorings in Portmagee is the ideal place to stay – even Mark Hamill spent the night. Rooms start from  $66 a night; see moorings.ie

VISITING THE ISLAND

Day trips by boat to Skellig Michael need to be booked two to three months in advance, and are weather dependent. Seeskelligmichaelcruises.com For helicopter flights, go to executive-helicopters.com.

The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Ireland.

See also: The real-life spiritual home of Star Wars

See also: Disneyland to build epic new 'Star Wars Land'

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