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Eighteen year-old Nicholas Harris, winner of the grand prize for the Star Wars: Force for Change CrowdRise campaign, recently shared his experiences of traveling to Ireland and visiting Skellig Michael, where the dramatic final scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shot.

I first got the email about winning the trip around the beginning of June. At first I wasn’t even sure it was real. I mean, sure, I did participate in the Force for Change CrowdRise charity campaign in April, but a trip to Ireland? That’s crazy! Something pulled right out of an online ad! I had to go back and re-watch that video with Kathleen Kennedy and Mark Hamill announcing it. That winner is me? Out of how many people?! But as time wore on, and the emails and the confirmation came rolling in, I came to realize it was true! It wasn’t until I was buckled in on the plane to New York and then on to Ireland, though, that I truly believed it.

Sadly, our plane to Shannon Airport in Ireland was canceled, so we had to take a flight to Dublin and catch a bus to Shannon to pick up our rental car. After that, though, the trip went about as smooth as one could hope. We were already booked for all of our hotels and bed and breakfasts, so I had until the end of the day to explore the mid-west coast of Ireland and watch my dad get used to driving on the left side of the road.

On our first day, we had a blast just driving around the countryside seeing some 600-year-old tower houses and visiting the Cliffs of Moher. It was a beautiful cliff and my dad claims it was one of the most amazing bits of natural scenery he had ever seen. Wait until we got to Skellig Michael, though! We spent the night at the high-end Dunraven Hotel in Adare, and the next day drove south around the gorgeous Ring of Kerry. On our way to the Butler Arms Hotel, we wanted to catch a glimpse of the Skelligs before we went to bed for the night and managed to sneak a peek of the two islands just outside of Portmagee.

After another wonderful evening at the hotel and saying hello to the rest of our family via Skype, we went up early to catch the boat ride from Portmagee to Skellig Michael. We were a bit worried, my dad and I, as we heard the weather had been pretty poor the previous few days, but amazingly we managed to land that day! The two guides on the island said that we were the first group to make it in the last five days! (The Force was certainly with us!) The climb was far more difficult than we could have anticipated, but we made it, and got to reenact a certain scene from the finale of The Force Awakens! Skellig Michael was so green and the monk’s housing on the top was so well-built and well-maintained for their age. Dad and I agreed that it would be difficult for anything in our lives to best the day on Great Skellig.

The days after felt like a breeze, as we had a wonderful time in the more urban and touristy parts of Ireland, such as Mizen Head. We spent the next two nights at charming bed and breakfasts, and visited towns that each had their own castle or fort! My favorite place after visiting Skellig Michael was the Rock of Cashel, a large, castle-like cathedral with plenty of history and a wonderful tour. On the last two days of our week-long trip to Ireland, we stayed at the Davenport Hotel in the heart of Dublin. We took a bus tour to learn some history and grab some easy transportation around the town, hopping on and off when we wanted to visit a site.

The next morning was sadly our last on the Emerald Isle. After a quick drive around Dublin and a visit to the ludicrously large Phoenix Park, we drove to the airport and said our farewells to Ireland. It was an awesome trip that I will never forget. Truly once in a lifetime! I would highly recommend it to anyone who can go, and I thank Force for Change and Tourism Ireland for such an incredible opportunity! Not only did I win the trip, I felt good about donating to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, as well. I will happily participate in future Force for Change fundraising campaigns!

     Written by: Nicholas Harris