Once upon a time, over 20 years before Star Wars creator George Lucas was born, a Nobel Prize and Oscar-winning Irish playwright discovered the wonders of the Skellig Islands.
On 17th September 1910, George Bernard Shaw left the Kerry coast in an open boat and sailed across choppy waters to explore the larger of the two islands – Skellig Michael.
In a letter penned to a friend, Shaw described the island as “An incredible, impossible, mad place” that is “part of our dream world”.
Catapulted in the limelight after their Hollywood debut in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Skellig Islands are a wonderful little chunk of unspoilt history nestled off the coast of County Kerry.
The Skellig Islands – what are they all about?
Jutting from the Atlantic Ocean around 8 miles from Ballinskelligs Bay off the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula stand Skellig Michael and Little Skellig.
Remote. Isolated. Beautiful. The islands have an almost prehistoric feel about them.
At a glance of a photo, it’s hard to stop your mind from wandering back to the opening scene in the first Jurassic Park where the helicopter advances upon the dinosaur-infested island.
The islands are widely regarded as one of Europe’s most perplexing and remote sacred sites.
Back in 1996 UNESCO gave recognition to Skellig Michael and its “outstanding universal value“, placing it upon the World Heritage List, where it sits proudly next to the likes of the Giants Causeway and Yellowstone National Park.
How they were formed
During the Armorican / Hercynian Earth Movements, where the mountains of County Kerry were created, Skellig Michael, which is connected to these mountains, peeked above the Atlantic Ocean.
The mass of rock from which the island was formed dates back over 400 million years and consists of compressed sheets of sandstone mixed with silt and gravel.
At it’s tallest peak, Skellig Michael towers 715 feet above the waters below.
Religious Significance and Beehive Huts
Of the two islands, Skellig Michael in particular boasts significant Religious and historical significance.
In pursuit of a greater union with God, a group of ascetic monks withdrew from civilisation to the remote island to begin a life of solitude.
Shortly after arriving on the island the monks got to work, building several structures to make the island suitable to live on, and it’s at the islands summit that you’ll find the best preserved Christian site in Ireland.
The ascetic monks constructed a Christian monastery, six beehive huts, two oratories and some terraces.
The cluster of six beehive huts (above) that housed the islands inhabitants were constructed with slate and, despite the intense storms they’ve been subjected to over many years, still remain intact to this day.
The terraces were used to grow vegetables which accompanied the other two food sources in the monks diets; fish and bird’s eggs.
A Stairway to Heaven
As their huts were at the islands summit, the monks needed to conquer 600 steps daily to catch fish from the icy waters below. A gruelling workout in anyones books.
Skellig Michael remained continuously occupied until the late 12th century before it was abandoned.
It’s commonly believed that colder weather and increased storms brought and end to life on the island.
Skellig Michael Tours
There are a number of different tour providers that offer a trip to or around the Skellig Islands.
The thing to decide in advance is if you actually want to get out and explore the island itself or if you’re happy to just sail around them.
Some tour operators only offer a boat journey around the islands whereas others allow you to venture onto the island itself and have a ramble.
If you prefer to book tours based on TripAdvisor reviews then Casey’s Boat Trips ranks top for trips to the island with a boat departing daily from Portmagee marina at 10:00 am.
There’s also a handful of great vantage points scattered across the Ring of Kerry where you can check them out from afar.
The boat trip to the Skelligs takes 45 minutes and you have around 2 hours to explore the rock, take pictures and appreciate the fact that you’re standing on an island in the middle of the Atlantic that’s bursting at the seams with history.
The Skelligs tour also stops for a while at Little Skellig to allow you to check out the bird colony and, at times, seals.
Just keep in mind that the tours are weather dependant.
If you missed out on visiting, here’s a heap of pictures of the islands to tide you over.
Explore the Island from your couch
Won’t get a chance to visit in person?
Tap play on the video below to a glimpse of what exploring Skellig Michael entails.
Where to find ’em
As if you need any other excuse to visit the beautiful county of Kerry, the Skellig Islands sit around 8 miles from the village of Portmagee, accessible by boat.