Skellig Michael

Discover Skellig Michael, now known to some as Star Wars Island

Skellig Michael

Discover Star Wars Island; Jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean seven miles (11km) off the Kerry coast is The Skelligs, three rocky islands. Skellig Michael, or Great Skellig, is 54 acres (22 hectares) of rock dominated by two pinnacles, the tallest of which rises 714ft (218m) above sea level.

The island gets its name from the Irish word, scelig, for a splinter of stone and dedication to the archangel Michael. An Augustinian monastery was founded, maybe by Saint Finnia, in the sixth century. The availability of rock and isolation appealed to the monks. There are nine other island monasteries off the Iveragh and Dingle peninsular.

Portmagee is the departure point for boats to The Skelligs. Access to the monastery is by climbing a 1,000-year-old 500ft stone stairway. Skellig Michael was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Let us make a boat trip to Skellig Michael, a highlight of your Private Tour of Ireland

UNESCO World Heritage Site

A brief history of Skellig Michael

Monastic island community
The islands were formed some 360 to 374 million years ago when immense pressures within the earth forced up the rock formations we know today as the MacGillycuddy's Reeks and the Caha mountains. As the Atlantic Ocean level rose, the Skelligs became islands. They remained uninhabited until the Augustinian monastery's founding on Skellig Michael between the 6th and 8th centuries.

Viking attacks
Recorded in the Annals of Inisfallen (a chronicle of Ireland's medieval history) records attacks the island by the Vikings in 823 and 838. Also mentioned is a new church called St Michaels church, which was added to the monastery in 950. By the early 16th century, Skellig Michael had become an important pilgrimage site.

Beehive cells
The monastery was built onto a rock shelf 600ft above sea level. It included two oratories, a cemetery, crosses, six beehive-shaped cells, and a medieval church. Except for the church that used lime mortar, the buildings were of dry stone construction and continuously inhabited until the late 12th or early 13th centuries.

Monastic life
The monastery probably comprised around twelve monks and an abbot whose diet would have been mainly vegetables grown in the island's thin soil augmented with fish, meat, and eggs from nesting birds. 

The hermitage was on the opposite side of the island. The monastery has a hazardous access route via a very narrow series of steep steps exposed to high winds, which can sometimes reach hurricane force. Today access is only permitted by prior arrangement.

Highlights of Skellig Michael and the surrounding region
Landing on the smaller Little Skellig is not permitted. It is a designated nature reserve and home to one of the world's largest colonies of northern gannets and home to hundreds of kittiwakes, guillemots, petrels, and shearwaters.

Portmagee a fishing village with a beautiful natural harbour. In times past, shipwrecking and smuggling were the main occupations for the inhabitants. The village got its name from one Theobald Magee, a high profile character among the smugglers. It is from here and other locations that you can take a Boat Trip to Skellig Michael

Cahersiveen is on the Ring of Kerry and stands at Valencia Harbour's head. Two properties feature prominently; One is the O'Connell Memorial Church. The O'Connells were a prominent family and guardians of the now ruined 15th-century castle. The Cromwellian wars of the 17th century saw the leading O'Connell banished to County Clare. The other beside the bridge is the remains of police barracks burned out in 1922. 

Derrynane, an Irish name meaning St Fionan's wood, refers to a 6th-century monastery founded here. A relaxed, atmospheric village was once a centre for trade with Spain and France and had wide sandy beaches and dunes. Nearby in mature woodland, which is part of a 320 acre National Park is the home of Daniel O'Connell's Derryname House. He was a prominent barrister who spent much of his life fighting for Catholic emancipation, which was achieved in 1829. The house is a national monument filled with period furniture and interesting artefacts.

Touring and accommodation
The South West of Ireland is, for many, the most beautiful region of the Country. Not only do you have the spectacular Skellig Islands to sail to, but you have Killarney National Park to tour and the sublime Ring of Kerry drive. Don't forget the lesser-known Dingle peninsula with some of Europe's most dramatic cliff-scapes. Please see our customisable Private Tours of Ireland here

Killarney is the obvious place to stay, and there are plenty of options. We recommend the Killarney Park Hotel, although there are many options. Killarney is a lively little town, a happy place in Killarney National Park.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Discover the Real Story of Star Wars Island

  • Private Guided Tours Available
  • Seven Mile Boat Trip to Great Skellig
  • See the Star Wars Film Location
  • See Puffins, Gannets and Razorbill

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