Rising majestically from the sea, the largest of the three islands, Skellig Michael towers 218m above sea level. On the summit of this awe-inspiring rock, you will find a remarkably well-preserved 6th Century monastic settlement. The earliest reference in history to the Skellig Islands dates back to 1400BC. During the time of the Penal Laws, Skellig Michael and Little Skellig became a haven for many Catholics. Skellig Michael (Sceilg Mhichil) was home to one of the earliest monastic settlements in Ireland.
The monks of St Fionan’s monastery led simple lives and lived in stone, beehive-shaped huts. They descended the steps early every morning and fished for the morning’s breakfast. They spent most of the day praying in the church, tending to their gardens and studying. Their huts, which are round on the outside and rectangular on the inside, were carefully built so that no drop of rain ever entered between the stones. The monks left the island in the 13th Century and it became a place of pilgrimage.
There is a fantastic wealth of bird life on and around the Skelligs, especially puffins in late spring. On the small Skellig 23,000 pairs of gannets nest on every available ledge, making it the second largest gannet colony in the world.
Skellig Michael is a wilderness site and a designated Nature Reserve and access to the island, which is by boat only, is from May to October each year. A visit to the monastery will entail a climb of 618 steps, ascending over 180 metres. The following advice must be noted at all times:
- Visitors must stay on the recognised pathways at all times
- Children must be supervised at all times
- Beware of falling rocks
- Steep gradient on the steps
- Uneven steps
- Steps slippery when wet