Information about Skellig Michael
Skellig Michael is a UNESCO World Heritage List island eight miles off the west coast of County Kerry.
Skellig Michael is home to a 6th Century monastic settlement. This complex is perched on the steep sides of the larger of the two Skellig Islands, Great Skellig, some 12km off the coast of south-west Ireland. It illustrates the very Spartan existence of the first Irish Christians. Since the extreme remoteness of Skellig Michael has until recently discouraged visitors, the site is exceptionally well preserved.
Together with the other Skellig island, Little Skellig, the two islands have seen a huge boost in global interest after they were featured in the reboot of the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens features Skellig Michael and it will also feature in the upcoming sequel Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
Image: Skellig Michael
The monastery on Skellig Michael survived a number of Viking raids in the 9th century, notably in 823, was later significantly expanded, with a new chapel built around the start of the second millennium. The community at Skellig Michael was apparently never large, probably about 12 monks and an abbot. Some time in the 12th century the monks abandoned the Skellig and moved to the Augustinian Monastery at Ballinskelligs on the mainland.
Starting in the 1500s, Skellig Michael became a popular destination for annual pilgrimages, but had no permanent residents. In the 19th century two lighthouses were built and the Great Skellig was again inhabited, this time by a changing rota of lighthouse keepers. The second lighthouse still operates, though it was largely rebuilt during the 1960s and has been automated since the 1980s. In 1986 some restoration work was done and an official tourist bureau associated with the island was established. However restrictions have recently been imposed on tourist access, in the belief that tourist numbers (in particular use of the ancient stone steps up the rock) were causing a worrying degree of damage to the site. Alternative methods that would preserve the site while allowing public access are being considered. In 1996 it was made into a World Heritage Site
There are two Skellig islands off the coast of Co. Kerry. Along with its smaller neighbour, Little Skellig, Great Skellig is an important nature reserve. Between them the Skelligs hold nationally important populations of a number of seabirds, including gannet, fulmar, kittiwake, razorbill, common guillemot, and Atlantic puffin. Storm petrels and Manx shearwaters also nest in large numbers.
Flora and fauna
Keep an eye out on Skellig Michael, for the puffins that inhabit the island and get quite close.
Due to the winter weather boats sail out only in the summer season (roughly April-September)
There are no vehicles on the island.
From the landing bay there is a small road that runs to the start of the stairs that lead up to the monastery.
The Stairs are in a reasonable condition, however they are old and there are no safety ropes. Whilst not being actively dangerous they do require some care, a dose of courage and some decent shoes.
The South Steps are the main route to the summit. They run up from the Heliport to ‘Christ’s Saddle’ a relatively flat piece of land between the two peaks of the Island.
The monastery is on the Eastern peak and is an easy walk from ‘Christ’s Saddle’. The Hermitage is on the South Peak, It is highly inadvisable to attempt to cross to the South Peak, the paths are not stable and the Hermitage itself is only accessible with climbing equipment.
There are no catering facilities on the Island. Bringing a picnic is a good idea however it is requested that this be eaten away from the remains of the monastery, to help stop seabirds scavenging among the ruins. The base of the steps near the Heliport is perhaps the best place to have a picnic, as it is well sheltered.
It is not possible to stay overnight on Skellig Michael. Accommodation is available at the various harbours on the mainland.
Don’t forget that this is a ‘wilderness outing’ to an uninhabited Atlantic Ocean island where there are no modern facilities. Bring food, water, and sensible clothes. The boat crossing can be choppy and there are no safety rails on the climb at Skellig Michael so tread carefully and responsibly.
Visitors should be aware that two tourists fell to their death on the island from the same location while navigating the steps to and from the monastery in 2009. The Office of Public Works, which oversees the island, has made the decision not to install a safety railing at that location, making it even more important for visitors to be extremely careful.