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, 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.
Skellig Michael Monastery with Small Skellig and Co. Kerry in background
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)
You will have to get a boat out to the island, but visitor numbers are restricted and a limited number of operators are permitted to run tours. Here is a list of the boat operators:
- Ballinskelligs Watersports, Ballinskelligs, ☎ +353 66 947-9182 ([email protected]), . €50 per person Sept 11-July 14, €60 July 15 to Sept 15.
- Casey's Skelligs Boat Tours, Portmagee, ☎ +353 66 947-2437 ([email protected]), . The tour is on board a fast boat taking approx 45 minutes to do the 8 mile journey to the islands
- Feehan's Boats, ☎ +353 86 417 6612 ([email protected]), . Trips to the Skelligs depart daily from Ballinskelligs pier. Departure times 10:00-12:00 depending on tides. The journey time is approximately 45/50 minutes each way and you'll have a further minimum 2 hours on the island Please telephone for reservations, departure times and sea conditions. €50-60 per person.
- Murphy Sea Cruise-Boat trips to Skellig Rock, Portmagee, ☎ +353 66 947-7156 ([email protected]), .
- Skellig Boat Trips with Eoin Walsh, Valentia Island, ☎ +353 66 947-6327 or +353 87 283 3522 (mobile) ([email protected]), .
- Skellig Michael Cruises, Portmagee (At the marina in Portmagee), ☎ +353 87 617 8114 ([email protected]), . 2.5 hours duration. Allows you the opportunity to see the Skellig Rocks from a unique perspective. Many people who come to Portmagee are unable to climb Skellig Michael for a variety of reasons; young families, age, disability or time constraints, etc. This is where they come in with their boat Marber Therese II! €30 per passenger.
- Skellig Tours, Caherdaniel, ☎ +353 87 689 8431 ([email protected]), . Second generation Skelligs’ boat skipper, John O Shea departs daily for the Skelligs from Derrynane Harbour
Boats normally leave at around 10:00-11:00. The boat trip out last about 45/55 minutes and all tours give you a minimum 2 hours on the island. The return journey is again 45/55 minutes returning to harbour at around 15:00-16:00. The boats will only go around the islands and not land there before main season starts in mid May. Since the islands have become very popular due to Star Wars, booking ahead is advisable.
The closest town that is fully accessible by public transport is Caherciveen.
Boat trips are pretty much a standard rate of €40 in the off-peak season and €50 in the summer months.
There are no banking facilities in Ballinskelligs or Portmagee so you will need to organise the cash before you arrive.
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.
- The Monastery Ruins at the peak of the island are one of the highlights of any trip to Ireland.
- The spectacular view of the South Peak from Christ's Saddle.
- The huge number of sea birds, especially on Small Skellig
- Seals and, if you are lucky, dolphins in the waters on the way to the islands
- Relax with a pint in the harbour side pubs to help take in the great experience
- Visit The Skellig Experience on Valentia Island, directly opposite Portmagee, to get a good overview of the history of the monastery.
Shops at the ports sell many traditional Irish souvenirs.
Skellig Chocolates  are a local company that make high quality and thoroughly recommended chocolates.
- Skellig Wars T-Shirts, . Unusual T-shirts & hoodies featuring images of the Skellig Michael puffins and beehive huts.
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.
There are pubs in Ballinskelligs and Portmagee, which are the ideal place to have a drink once you return. The Bridge Bar and Fisherman’s Bar both lookout over the harbour and both serve food.
It is not possible to stay overnight on Skellig Michael. Accommodation is available at the various harbours on the mainland.
- The Skellig Lodge, (Through Ballinskelligs, stay on the main road, “Skellig Ring”, past the junction for Ballinskelligs Beach and Pier. At the top of this stretch of road, is another small junction with a very sharp bend. Slow down and drive through the junction (up the hill) taking care of the traffic coming from the left. The Lodge is the 4th building on the left with Skellig Lodge on the sign at the gate. Nearest bus stop is in Caherciveen, they have special arrangement for taxis to collect guests and bring them directly. Collections must be pre-booked and the local charge applies), ☎ +353 66 947-9942 ([email protected]), . New buildings that are wheelchair friendly, fully equipped self-catering kitchens. Lounge with TV, DVD, books, games & radio. Free tea & coffee, Wi-Fi. Dorm €15-18, Twin €30-€40.
- The Moorings, Portmagee, Co. Kerry, ☎ 353 66 9477108 (via website), . Run by the same people that own the Bridge Bar and comes with a good recommendation €40-€65 p.p.p.n..
- Portmagee Hostel, Portmagee, Ring of Kerry, County Kerry, Ireland, ☎ +353 (0)66 948 0018 ([email protected]), . Good value accommodation in Portmaggee near the main harbour for trips to the islands Dorm €11-€14.50, Private Room from €13.50-€24 pp.
- Skellig Hostel, Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry, ☎ 00353 ([email protected]), . Excellent value accommodation in brand new building, The drive over the headland to Portmagee offers astounding views of the coastline Vallentia Island and out to the Skelligs themselves, worth driving out for the view alone. Dorm €11-€14.50, Private Room from €13.50-€24 pp.
- The Old Cable House Bed and Breakfast, Old Telegraph Cable Station Waterville Ring of Kerry (Skellig Ring Drive to Waterville), ☎ 0035369474233, . checkin: 3PM-6PM; checkout: 11AM. Ring of Kerry Ireland the Old Cable Historic House Stay at our B&B for the unique lodging alternative to large hotels, experience the personal touch “ That incomparable Irish mist , we reveal the Ireland you had only dreamed of colourful, unstuffy, and infectiously attractive mix of styles and people. Polished floors, robust Irish cooking, medicinal whiskeys, fly-fishing and storytelling characters, Islands, mountains, and goats who own the road, boat trips and magical wishing wells, just do absolutely nothing , breathe in the impossible beauty” * Milestone Heritage Site. This unique residence in Waterville Village traces its origins to the first transatlantic telegraph cable layed from Ireland/Europe to USA in 1866. Retaining all its original features, the Old Cable House offers bright spacious rooms of character. 35 euro pp.
- Brookhaven House B&B (Accommodation in Waterville Ireland), Waterville, Ireland (Brookhaven is located less than one kilometre north of the town of Waterville on the Ring of Kerry. Waterville is situated between the Caherciveen, to the north and Caherdaniel to the south, on the N70 road.), ☎ +353 66 9474431, . Brookhaven is a purpose built, family run, Irish Tourist board approved guesthouse situated on the internationally renowned Ring of Kerry in the South West corner of Ireland. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Waterville Championship Golf Course, Brookhaven House is also within easy reach of other championship Golf courses in Killarney, Tralee and Ballybunion. Eur 40-60. (51.840184,-10.178479)
- Derrynane Hotel & Holiday Homes (Derrynane Hotel), Caherdaniel, Co. Kerry, ☎ 353 66 94 75136 ([email protected]), . Friendly, family-run hotel located on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean overlooking Kenmare Bay - outdoor pool, tennis courts, bar & restaurant, sauna, steam room & gym, supervised kids play area & games room. 5 Star holiday homes on the grounds of the hotel, guests have full use of hotel facilities
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.
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