Skellig Michael is the larger of the two Skellig Rocks located approximately 11 kms west of Portmagee and Valentia Island in County Kerry on Ireland’s South West Coast.
Skellig Michael soars 218 m or 715 feet above the sea and was the home of a christian monastic settlement between the 6th and 12th centuries. The bee hive huts in which the monks lived can still be seen to this day. The island has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.
It is estimated that about a dozen monks and their abbot leader lived on Skellig Michael in 6 dry stone corbel built beehive huts. There were also two hermitages and a small late medieval church. The monks would have survived on a diet of fish and sea birds’ eggs supplemented by vegetables grown under difficult conditions in the island’s sparse salt washed soil
The monks abandoned the Skellig Rocks late in the 12th century possibly due to an extremely cold climate period in the South West of Ireland and relocated to Ballinskelligs monastery on the mainland.
Following the Monks departure, the island remained in the hands of the catholic church until the protestant reformation in the late 1500’s in the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first, when ownership passed to the Norman Butler family. It remained in private ownership until 1820 when it was compulsorily purchased by the forerunners of the Commissioners of Irish Lights who built two lighthouses and light keepers houses on the western side of the island. On being awarded UNESCO status in 1996, the island was taken over by Ireland’s Department of Heritage who conserved the site and created the Visitor experience of today.
The Skellig Rocks are an important nature reserve and have been designated as an Important Bird Area and a Special Protection Area under the European Union Birds Directive 2009.
The Skellig Rock Birds of particular interest include the Puffin, Gannet, Storm Petrel, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Gulliemot. There are several excellent scuba diving sites around the Skellig Rocks.
latterly, the Skellig Rocks have become famous as the remote home of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker character in the latest Star Wars movies.This has brought even greater recognition and a huge increase of tourism visitors to both the Skellig Rocks and the Portmagee area.
To visit the Skellig Rocks check out the approved ferry boats listed here. Note that while many boats vist the waters around the Skelligs each day, not all are permitted to land. It is important to check this before you book.