Skellig Michael is open to the public during the Summer months each year. There is a free guide service based on the island to help visitors interpret the site.
Skellig Michael is known for its Early Medieval monastery which is thought to have been founded as early as the sixth century. It is likely that a monastery in such a place would have been sited on the existing site of a pagan cult. There are accounts of a struggle here between christianity and the pagan worship of serpents which was carried out on the island.
The monastery is accessed by three long very steep flights of steps. On the way up, you may see puffins zooming into their nests to feed sand eels to their chicks. The monastery is very well preserved. It consists of an inner enclosure containing seven beehive huts, two oratories, a church, and the remains of a latrine, water cisterns, a cemetery, crosses and cross-slabs. A hermitage on the island’s South Peak is 218 m high.
Despite being so remote, the monastery was important enough to attract the attention of the Viking raiders in 824. In one such raid, Étgal, Abbot of Skelligs, was abducted and eventually starved to death in captivity. It is said that Viking Olav Trygvasson who was later to become King of Norway was baptised by a Skellig hermit. By the thirteenth century the monks had left the island.
Among the curious traditions connected with the rock was one that permitted marriages to be celebrated on it during Lent. After the change to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, the monks in Ireland continued to keep to the Julian Calendar, ‘Old Time’. Accordingly, Lent, a time for penance and abstinence, came weeks later to the island!
The entire island was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996.
Lucasfilm, the Disney-owned production company that makes the Star Wars series, shot scenes for the JJ Abrams-directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Skellig Michael in 2014 with scenes for the eighth instalment, directed by Rian Johnson, shot there in 2015.
The Skelligs are abundant with birdlife. You can see Gannets, Storm Petrels, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and Manx Shearwaters. Nesting on Skellig Michael are Puffins galore. The Lesser Skellig is a bird sanctuary. The rock appears white. This is due to the 27,000 nesting pairs of gannets; a combination of the birds themselves and their guano…Stunning.
Weather permitting, John O’Shea can take you out there from Bunavalla Pier, Derrynane Harbour – 15 minutes drive from Staigue Fort House. You can drive straight to the pier or take the charming “Mass Walk” from the Pier at Derrynane to Bunavalla. Allow 20 minutes for the mass walk. Call John two days before you plan going for weather check and booking. Tel: 087 6898431. www.skelligtours.com