Skellig Michael, the Mysterious Monastery of Ireland
Skelling Michael is a remote island sitting 12 km off the coast of Ireland in the middle of the rugged seas of the Atlantic Ocean. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was one of the most fascinating things we saw in the entire country. (And that is saying a lot!)
Getting to Skellig Michael is half the fun. The ride out by small fishing boat faces rough seas that offer quite the thrill ride as you take in the amazing views of the peninsula.
More often than not, trips are canceled due to weather. Sometimes if you do manage to get to the island, the surging seas put a stop to any chance of making a landing.
So a visit to Skellig Michael is something special and worth savoring.
Skellig Michael and Star Wars
Updated: Feb 2020
Filming began sometime in 2014 and finished in 2015, so we just missed seeing Luke Skywalker and Rey spar with their lightsabers among the ancient ruins.
Today, Skellig Michael has become a popular spot for film buffs thanks to its entry into pop culture, but the Skellig Islands have drawn explorers for centuries to its mysterious shores.
Still, very few make the journey to see Skellig Michael and even fewer manage to step foot on the island.
About Skellig Michael Ireland
Skellig Michael is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back 1400 years.
When you visit here, you will feel as if you have stepped back in time.
The Skellig Rocks were home to a group of Christian monks who a monastery atop Skellig Michael between the 6th and 9th centuries.
The monks lived in beehive huts that they built by hand while surviving the elements and Viking invasions until the 12th century.
These hearty monks lived on a diet of rainwater, sea birds, and the odd sea lion for food.
Life was difficult during this early Christian period, but it gave them the seclusion they were looking for.
Skellig Experience Visitors Centre
Our trip began at The Skellig Experience Visitors Centre on Valentia Island just off the Peninsula of County Kerry.
This trip was part of our Wild Atlantic Way road trip itinerary, so once we finished up driving around the famous Ring of Kerry, we made our way to Port Magee to explore these amazingly preserved monastic beehives.
The visitor’s centre has exhibits about the history of Skellig Michael and it offers an excellent video introduction before visiting the Skellig Islands.
After getting an understanding of what to expect, we set sail to the high seas of Ireland for one of our greatest ancient ruins experiences ever.
The Trip to the Skellig Islands
The boat trip took about an hour to get out to Skellig Michael. You can pick up snacks at the visitor’s centre for the ride which was a nice touch.
It was also a blessing having full bellies to ease the sea sickness.
If you are prone to seasickness, I suggest taking medication. The water can be choppy and the swells can cause nausea for the uninitiated.
There are two Skellig Islands to visit:
- Skellig Michael is the largest of the two islands and houses the 6th-century Monasteries. I is the only island where you have the opportunity to land.
- Little Skellig is an island that is viewed from the boat. It is home to thousands of birds migrating through the area and it is an impressive view from the top of Skellig Michael.
Landing on Skellig Michael
There are boat tours that take you out to the Skellig Islands and simply let you see them from the water, but to do a landing is what makes this destination so special.
We were lucky enough to have blue skies on the day of our tour to Skellig Michael but even with clear skies, the seas can be rough.
We met three women on our boat who had waited for three days trying to get out to the islands. If they didn’t have the luxury to wait, they would have missed their window.
But we all made it out today but once we reached the dock, it was a hair raising experience just getting off the boat.
The water was surging with sea swells tossing our boat. It was a rocky landing. For a moment, I thought the captain might not let us go ashore. But with everyone helping each other out, we all managed to get off in one piece.
Climbing the 600 Steps to the Skellig Monasteries
It was a thrilling experience to step off the boat and look up at the narrow steps leading to the monastery.
When landing on the island, there are signs warning people to climb at their own risk and we can understand why.
It is daunting when you look up at the steep grade along a narrow path. The trek looks steeper and tougher than we thought.
The climb takes you up an ancient and uneven stone path of 600 steps that reach the beehive monasteries standing 200 meters (600 feet) above sea level.
The stone steps were built by the monks over three centuries and as you make your way up, their skilled craftsmanship shines through. They are in extraordinary condition. Even after more than a thousand years of facing the wind and rains of the Atlantic Ocean, they are standing strong.
The Climb is Short but Steep
The climb to the beehive huts took us about half an hour. You can go faster if you don’t stop for so many pictures, or you can take your time. The boat gives you about two hours to explore.
We recommend going directly up to the monastery and then taking your time on the way down. It is outstanding from above.
The beehive stone cells are fascinating to explore, but the views and setting of the island are even more breathtaking.
It is extraordinary to see just how well the ancient monastic huts held up over the centuries facing the wild weather of Ireland’s Atlantic Coast.
While walking through the grounds one can understand why the Christian Monks chose this spot as their place of refuge.
The isolation from the mainland and sheer beauty of the landscape makes you feel that you are just a little bit closer to heaven
There are seven beehive huts to peruse offering various viewpoints from the island. We went above and below to see them from all angles.
Enjoy our video tour of Skellig Michael, the Boat Trip and Little Skellig Island.
Besides the beehive huts, there is a church, a cemetery complete with stone crosses, terraces and gardens to explore on Skellig Michael.
Getting to the top is where you want to be to have time to see it all. And here you can live out your fantasies of training to be a Jedi Knight.
Why are the Skellig Islands so difficult to visit?
Each year the Irish government grants only 13 boat licenses to tour operators who run trips to Skellig Michael from the mainland.
Space is limited and you must book in advance. Since Star Wars has put The Skelligs on the map, the islands now take 180 people per day.
Tours to Skellig Michael run from the end of May to the End of August.
They leave daily from the Skellig Michael Experience Centre at 9:30 am and last until about 2pm. You can book tickets here.
Since the Skelligs have become so popular, we highly recommend booking several months in advance. They begin to take bookings at the end of March.
Tours to Skellig Michael run weather permitting. If the seas are rough (which they often are) trips will be canceled and you’ll have to wait for another day.
Where to Stay in Port Magee – Gateway to the Skelligs
Port Magee is the gateway to Skellig Michael and it is a good spot to make a base for your trip out to the island or even when driving the Ring of Kerry.
A great place to stay when visiting the Skellig Michael is The Moorings in Portmagee.
Owner Gerard and his wife Patricia own the hotel and the adjoining pub and restaurant.
There’s local traditional music in the Bridge Bar and in the summertime across the street, they have storytelling about the history of this fishing village and the Skellig Islands.
The Moorings can set up a Skellig Michael Island Tour for you, they’re located just a few minutes from the Skellig Visitors Centre and they offer plenty of advice on what to see and do in the are.
Portmagee is on the Wild Atlantic Way Coastal Route. If you drive up the West Coast of Ireland, be sure to add Portmaggee and the Skellig Islands into your itinerary.
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Frequently Asked Questions about Skellig Michael
Skellig Michael reaches 200 metres (600 feet) above sea level. There are steep drops and the climb can be a bit harrowing. Don’t go too close to the edge and take your time when climbing the uneven rocky path up that dates back to the 6th century.
If tickets are booked out for landings on Skellig Michael, you can book sightseeing tours that take you out and around the two Skellig Islands.
Skellig Michael is possible to see from land, but it is located 12 km (7.5 miles) offshore. It is best seen from the Kerry Cliffs at Port Magee just off the Ring of Kerry
Skellig Michael is located in County Kerry just off the coast of Portmagee.
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