The awe-inducing island of Skellig Michael, a World Heritage Site, lies some 12km (8 miles) off the coast of Bolus Head in County Kerry. The famous jagged rock that rises some 218m (715 feet) over the Atlantic waves is actually the tip of a submerged mountain, formed of the same 400 million-year-old Old Devonian Sandstone that runs all the way to the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. After landing on the island, you are faced with a climb up hundreds of steep stone steps that lead you ever upward until you reach the enclosure of the monastery.
The monastic foundation here is thought to have been in existence from at least the 7th century. The monastery is traditionally believed to have been founded by St. Fíonán; however, by the 11th century the island and its monastery had been rededicated to St. Michael. It was founded as part of the eremitical practice of the early Irish Church, to withdraw to isolated places to worship God, unencumbered by daily life, society or politics. This sea-bound wilderness did not protect them from the Vikings, who raided Skellig Michael. The most notable raid was in 824, when the Annals of Ulster and the Annals of Inisfallen record that the Vikings kidnapped the abbot Éitgal, who died of hunger and thirst during his captivity. Skellig Michael continued to be used by a community of monks up until at least the 12th century, before the monks left the island to a new foundation at Ballinskelligs. The island continued to be used as an occasional hermitage by the Augustinian Canons of Ballinskelligs, and it remained an important place for pilgrimage up until the 19th century.
The siting of the monastery on a terrace just below the northern peak ensured that it had a south-facing aspect and that it was largely sheltered from the prevailing winds: as comfortable a place as you could possibly get on this exposed island. The monastic remains consist of a stone enclosure with two oratories, a later mortared church known as St. Michael’s Church, seven drystone clocháns (or cells), a cemetery, leachta (possible altars or pilgrim stations), with a number of cross-slabs and other similar features. It also includes water cisterns and two terraces referred to as the Upper and Lower Monks’ Gardens. There is a further set of monastic features known as ‘The Hermitage’ on the South Peak of the island, but that is inaccessible to visitors today.
The remote desolation sought by the monks of a millennia ago was already home to a thriving community, as Skellig Michael and the smaller island of Little Skellig are also important habitats for many species of flora and fauna, particularly seabirds. They are perhaps most famous for puffins (more on these below), but they are also home to gannets, kittiwakes, guillemots, storm petrels, Manx shearwaters, fulmars, black-backed gull and even peregrine falcon.
For practical information about visiting this site Click Here