It is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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 12 km (7 mi) off the coast of south-west Ireland. It illustrates the very spartan existence of the first Irish Christians. Until the 1970s, the extreme remoteness of Skellig Michael discouraged visitors, so the site is exceptionally well preserved.
The monastery on Skellig Michael survived Viking raids in the 9th century, notably in 823, and 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 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. Skellig Michael has in the 2010s gained fame among fans of the Star Wars movie series as it provided the location shots for the refuge of Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
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 for the puffins that inhabit the island and get quite close.
Due to the winter weather boats sail out in the summer season roughly (April-September)
You will have to get a boat out to the island, but visitor numbers are restricted and only a few operators are permitted to run tours. Here is a list of some of the boat operators:
- Boat Operator, Valentia Island, ☏ .
- Casey's Skelligs Boat Tours, Portmagee, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The tour is on board a fast boat taking about 45 minutes to do the 8-mile journey to the islands.
- Murphy Sea Cruise-Boat trips to Skellig Rock, Portmagee, ☏ .
- Ocean Quests Ltd., Valentia Island, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- Skellig Boat Trips, Valentia Island, ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Skellig Michael Cruises, Portmagee, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Runs 2½-hour cruises around Skellig Michael from Portmagee.
- Skellig Tours, Caherdaniel, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Second generation Skelligs’ boat skipper, John O Shea departs daily for the Skelligs from Derrynane Harbour.
- Waterville Boats, Waterville, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
Boats normally leave around 10:00. The boat trip out lasts about 45 min and most tours give you 2-3 hr on the island. The return journey is again 45 min, returning to the harbour at about 15:00.
The closest town that is fully accessible by public transport is Caherciveen,
Fees and permits
Prices have significantly jumped up after Star Wars film, in which this island figured.
- For boat trips around the island without setting foot on it (2.5 hours) costs around €30-40.
- Boat trips including 2 hours spent on the island have a standard rate of €40 in the off-peak season and €70 in the summer months.
There are no banking facilities in Ballinskelligs or Portmagee, so you will need the money 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 steps that lead up to the monastery. The steps 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 amount 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
- The Skellig Experience, Valentia Island (directly opposite Portmagee). Get a good overview of the history of the monastery.
Shops at the ports sell many traditional Irish souvenirs.
- Skellig Chocolates. A local company that make high quality and thoroughly recommended chocolates.
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 look out over the harbour and serve food.
It is not possible to stay on Skellig Michael, accommodation is available at both harbours:
- The Moorings, Portmagee, ☏ . 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, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Good value accommodation in Portmagee near the main harbour for trips to the islands Dorm €11-14.50, private room from €13.50-24 pp.
- [formerly dead link] Skellig Hostel, Ballinskelligs, ✉ email@example.com. Excellent value accommodation in brand new building, The drive over the headland to Portmagee offers astounding views of the coastline Valentia 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 Village, Ring of Kerry (Skellig Ring Drive to Waterville), ☏ . Check-in: 15:00-18:00, check-out: 11:00. B&B alternative to large hotels. 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”. This unique residence in traces its origins to the first transatlantic telegraph cable laid from Ireland and Europe to USA in 1866. Retains all its original features, bright spacious rooms of character. €35 pp.
- 1 Brookhaven House B&B (Accommodation in Waterville Ireland), Waterville (Brookhaven is less than 1 km 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.), ☏ . Brookhaven is a purpose-built, family-run, guesthouse approved by the Irish Tourist Board overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Waterville Championship Golf Course. Within easy reach of other championship Golf courses in Killarney, Tralee and Ballybunion. €40-60.
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.
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 decided not to install a safety railing at that location, making it even more important for tourists to be extremely careful.