This is the tourist boom you’re looking for – since the picturesque coastline of County Kerry featured in The Force Awakens and hosts Episode VIII of the Star Wars series, south-west Ireland has become a magnet for movie fans.
The plot for the next Star Wars movie is guarded more closely than the Death Star, but one thing is certain – it will feature plenty of Irish mist and rain.
The regular downpours, helped by tankers of water brought on set just in case, failed to dim the enthusiasm of hardy fans and businesses cashing in as director Rian Johnson began shooting this month on a remote stretch of coastline in County Kerry in south-west Ireland.
“There’s a buzz around and the exposure worldwide is unbelievable,” says Donal O’Cathain, a bar owner in Ballyferriter, the small village nearest the set that was built on Ceann Sibeal, a rocky promontory.
Christy MacGearailt, who runs a restaurant, says: “I don’t know if the Force is with us but it has certainly forced us to work a lot harder because of the increase in the number of visitors.”
The most recent movie in the Lucas film Disney Star Wars series, which was released last December, has generated more than US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) at the box office, making it the third-highest grossing film of all time.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens featured Ireland in a dramatic ending filmed in Skellig Michael, a sixth-century monastic settlement off the coast of Kerry.
"Ireland has become an important part of Star Wars history," says Candice Campos from Lucasfilm Disney, while announcing this year that Ireland would feature in the eighth instalment.
James Hickey, chief executive of the Irish Film Board, says he hopes for “increased levels of job creation, incoming tourists and foreign direct investment to Ireland”. Episode VIII is scheduled for release in December next year.
Jack Sullivan, an Irish-American, is among the fans eagerly awaiting the premiere. He was in a group trying to catch a glimpse of a structure jutting out from the hilltop.
“This is a real bonus on our trip to Ireland,” Mr Sullivan says. “It’s just a pity we can’t get to see it up close. I can’t wait until the movie comes out now.”
But some locals complained about the disruption in this rural place where Irish Gaelic is the primary language.
Louis Mulcahy, who has been hosting some of the visitors at his pottery shop to view the set through a telescope, complained about the traffic around the Dingle Peninsula, already one of Ireland’s busiest tourist routes.
“The increase in numbers certainly won’t help,” he says.
Lorries loaded with equipment have navigated the narrow roads in recent weeks to ferry equipment to a hastily built camp at the bottom of a hill near Ballyferriter that is usually home to sheep.
Owners of Ballyferriter’s four-wheel drive off-road vehicles are reportedly earning €300 (Dh1,225) a day to ferry the cast and crew along a temporary road up the hillside to the shoot location, which is bounded by cliffs on three sides.
About 450 people work on the set amid tight security to prevent any leaks about the new film.
Landowners have signed secrecy agreements and none will speak openly about the layout of the site for fear that they would not receive compensation for the use of their fields. Nor were they prepared to talk about their financial windfalls.
Workers have to hand over their mobiles to prevent them from taking pictures and the Irish Aviation Authority has imposed a no-fly zone.
But the village’s three pubs have been humming with conversations about the day’s happenings on site and how the stars are behaving themselves. The friendliness and down-to-earth manner of Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the saga, was singled out for praise.
Some business owners are openly sceptical of claims that the film is enhancing prosperity.
“We have seen plenty of cars passing our door to go to the site but you can count on one finger the number of local people actually working there,” says Eamon Houlihan, owner of the Black Cat shop in the village.
“Everything has been shipped in – it is almost completely self-contained.”
* Agence France-Presse