Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael

“… the most fantastic and impossible rock in the world … the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in; it is part of our dream world.”
George Bernard Shaw

Skellig Michael Island lies 12 km (8 miles) off the coast of Portmagee, in South West Kerry.

Visiting the island is a once in a lifetime experience. One you will never forget. I have to admit straight off that on my visit to the island, I was unable to climb to the top. I have a thing about heights and turned back after about 30 steps (out of the 618 steps to get to the monastery). Yet, I had a most amazing time. There is an atmosphere on the island that is hard to describe. It’s like being in another world – rock, birds, the sea and an ancient connection. I explored the base area, looking at the birds, sitting on a flat slab of rock and watching the waves crashing on the rocks. I could see the attraction it was for the monks who came to live here over 1400 years ago. There is a serenity in the wildness of this place.

Small Skellig

There are lots of birds on the islands. Small Skelligs, in the background, is home to 23,000 pairs of gannet, making it the second largest gannet colony in the world. Skellig Michael is home to thousands of Atlantic puffins, at least for part of the year. They arrive in April and spend their summers on the island, breeding and fattening their chicks on locally available food. Come late August the puffins leave, first in dribs and drabs and then practically overnight, not to return again for another 8 months.

Skellig Michael & Star Wars

Skellig Micheal has a starring role in two Star Wars movies: Episode VII “The Force Awakens” and Episode VIII “The Last Jedi”. Star Wars: Episode VII – The “Force Awakens” concluded with Rey finding Luke Skywalker on an isolated planet (Skellig Michael). In “The Last Jedi” the prehistoric monastic island features in a large part of the movie. It’s easy to see why. It is truly a mystical and mysterious place.

In this movie clip, you can see Rey climbing the steps and entering the ancient monastery to meet Luke. Skellig Michael is Awesome!

Some History

Skellig Michael’s historical importance today is primarily due to the Christian monks who lived there. But it is likely that it was a place of pilgrimage long before Christianity came to Ireland. Ancient legends tell of “Daire Domain”, the King of the World, living there and the place is also mentioned in oral accounts, dating from 3000 years ago, of the Tuatha De Danaan, a race of tall, beautiful people descended from the goddess Dana. The perfect setting for Star Wars!

Bee hive huts

The Monks

A small group of monks built the monastery on Skellig Michael between the 6th and 8th centuries. A small cluster of six beehive huts and two boat shaped oratories remain as testimony to their lives on the island. The monks led simple lives. Early every morning they would descend the stone steps and fish for the morning’s breakfast. They would spend the rest of the day praying in the church, tending to their gardens and studying. The huts, which are round on the outside and rectangular on the inside, were carefully built so that no drop of rain ever entered between the stones.

Tip: Don’t forget to visit The Skellig Experience Visitor Centre. You’ll get lots of information on the history, bird life and archaeology of Skellig Michael and a glimpse into the lives of the monks who lived there. Hot coffee and home-made scones also go down a treat!

Getting There

Scellig Michael is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and there are restrictions in place on the number of tourists who can visit, to protect the island. There are many boats offering trips to Skellig Micheal. These leave from the area around the visitor centre from May to September, weather permitting. The boat journey is a great experience in itself and the staff on the boats are from the locality. You are guaranteed a warm welcome and an experience you’ll never forget.

Even though I’ll never climb the steps to the top, I can’t wait to go back!