Exploring the Magnificent Skellig Islands
Submitted by Ross:
If you happen to be in the South West of Ireland exploring the history, mountains, lakes, and jagged coastline, then one place has it all, the Skellig Islands. These two small islands situated off the County Kerry coast are as beautiful as they are fascinating. The harshness of the landscape, the steepness of the rocks weren’t enough to deter monks to live there as penance for centuries.
The Skellig Islands are just off the coast from the towns of Waterville and Portmagee, and if you are doing the popular Ring of Kerry then you will pass close to these villages. You will need to take a slightly larger loop (35km extra) to go on the Skellig Ring Road. This ring road brings you from Portmagee around the rocky coast through Coomanaspig Pass before entering the picturesque town of Ballinskellig. From the edge of the mainland you can see the rocky Skelligs lying 12km (8miles) off shore.
Wherever you catch the boat (more info below), the view of the islands and of Ireland’s mainland are spectacular. Be warned though… it is the Atlantic Ocean and the wind and waves have an uninterrupted journey of 3,000 miles before it reaches Ireland, so the passage to The Skelligs can be rough. The first island you meet is Little Skellig which is an outcrop poking from the sea and holding the world’s second largest Northern Gannet bird colony as well as shearwaters, puffins, fulmars, kittiwakes etc so the place is teeming with seabirds. The bare grey rock has now been covered in a white paste from the birds, but it doesn’t stop the seals from taking a break there. Occasionally whales and dolphins are also found cruising around.
Skellig Michael (Great Skellig) is the larger island further from shore and rising much higher, up to a height of 218mtrs (714ft) above the surrounding seas. The main attraction on the island is the UNESCO World Heritage site of fabulous beehive huts that Christian monks built and lived in a thousand years ago. After arriving at the tiny pier and disembarking you wander around on the modern path before ascending to the main attraction.
The monks ‘village’ is 160 meters above sea level up the sharp incline of hand carved steps that the monks cut out of the rock. An impressive feat in itself. As you make your way up the steep steps it is hard to take a minute to admire the incredible views all around and to watch the thousands of eccentric puffins that occupy the island from April to early August.
Once you finally reach the tiny group of stone beehive huts and graveyards, it is hard not to be impressed when you think that the settlement was founded around the 6th century and was occupied until the late 12th century. This desolate island in the Atlantic with brutal weather was occupied for nearly 600 years, and subsequently it was abandoned and is still standing 800 years later!
The settlement has a church, tiny graveyards as well as tiny vegetable patches where there is just enough soil to grow food. The monks had to row to the mainland to get supplies such as turf for a fire which took them over six hours each way in calm weather. The monks led a life of fishing, praying and tending to their study and vegetables as devotion to God. With the views of the mainland, the views of the sea, the birds, the steep steps, and finally the very impressive monastic settlement, if you are in the South West of Ireland the Skellig Islands are one of the best places to go.
Need to Know
Boats to the island depart around 10am and return around 3.30pm with approximately 2.5 hours on the island. You are not permitted to remain on the island. Price is about €50 per person in summer. Each leg of the boat trip takes approximately 40 minutes. Boats leave Ballinskelligs, Portmagee, Caherdaniel, and Valentia Island and depend on sea conditions. www.skelligislands.com – www.skelligstrips.com
The nearest town that is serviced by public transport is Caherciveen. The ‘Skellig Experience Centre’ is located on Valentia Island to get lots more info on the Skellig Islands. www.skelligexperience.com
Contributed by Ross:
I’m Ross from www.travellingforfun.com and love travelling and experiencing different sites, cultures and languages. I am currently working for ‘the man’ while making time to travel whenever I can. I try to share my experiences of 70+ countries so that others can enjoy their holidays a little better.
Our video from Skellig Michael: