Skellig Michael | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Skellig Michael

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: Kanuman / Shutterstock

About Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael (Sceilg Mhichil) is a dramatic and remote medieval monastic settlement off the coast of Ireland. In fact, it was one of Ireland’s earliest examples of monastic life.

History of Skellig Michael

First mentioned in writing in the 8th century, it is not clear as to exactly when the monastery of Skellig Michael was first constructed. Some say it was built by St. Fionan, to whom it was dedicated, in the 6th century, others that it was there from the 7th century. Whatever the truth, this magnificent remnant of early Irish Christianity is still incredibly well-preserved, having been abandoned sometime in the 12th to 13th centuries.

The monks arrived here in their quest for ultimate solitude, influenced by Coptic Christianity. The Skelligs are on the western most edge of Europe: remote and windblown, some have argued that the monks thought that they had reached the very end of the world.

Vikings raided the site in the 9th century, kidnapping and killing some of the monks, but Skellig Michael recovered, and went on to further grow and thrive. After its abandonment, Skellig Michael was still used for weddings during Lent – it continued to use the the old Julian calendar rather than the new Gregorian calendar, which meant that weddings could take place for couples to desperate to wait until Easter.

Skellig Michael has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. Most famously, Skellig Michael was used as a filming location in two of the more recent Star Wars films.

Skellig Michael today

Despite the dawn of modern technology, Skellig Michael remains isolated and hard to reach – you’ll need to catch a boat from Portmagee for a day trip. There are no facilities on the island (including no toilets), and trips are often cancellled due to adverse weather conditions. It’s not a trip for the sea sick even on the calmest of days.

Once you land, it’s a steep climb up 618 steps to see the distinctive beehive-like cells and the remains of the monastery.

Getting to Skellig Michael

Your only option to get to Skellig Michael is on a boat tour – these leave from Portmagee Harbour semi-regularly, but you’ll want to book in advance where possible, especially in peak season, as numbers are limited. Trips are weather dependent too, so check ahead. Portmagee is in County Kerry, on the north western side of the ring. It’s about 75 minutes drive from Kerry Airport. There are buses traversing the Ring, but they’re few and far between. Expect the Ring of Kerry to be heaving from May to September.

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