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The Skellig Michael


The Best Thing We Did in Ireland

John McKinney

Following a hearty, Irish breakfast we walked to the docks to catch our boat to the Skelligs. We were greeted by five or so captains all calling out names in very thick Irish accents looking for their passengers so they could be on their way. Asking a few of them for “Eoin”, which we had absolutely no idea how to pronounce at the time, yielded no results. Finally, one captain said, “I know Eoin, he’s over there.”. He pointed toward the end of the dock. We followed this captain as we thought he was taking us to him. After walking with him to the end of the dock, there was no Eoin. He turned around looking surprised that we were still behind him and said, “Why are you following me? Eoin is over there.”

It was only at this point we realized that where he had actually pointed was to a single boat on the other side of the river. Terrified we’d miss our boat, we immediately started running over the bridge to catch our boat. Upon arrival, and were greeted by a man that looked like he was straight out of a novel about Irish sailors. He introduced himself as Eoin (pronounced essentially like Owen) and made a joke about watching us run across the bridge. Easing our fears, he let us know we were awaiting the others and we should go inside the Skellig museum while we wait. So I guess we didn’t need to run, oh well.

History

Inside the museum, we learned all about the Skellig Michael’s rich history. The rocky, dangerous island is about 7 miles off the coast of Portmagee and was occupied by Christian monks from sometime during the 6th century until late into the 12th century. Seeing what they built all the way out there is incredible, especially considering the island is as harsh and unforgiving as it gets. For something a little more current, it was on the Skellig Michael that the last scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed.

Due to the danger of trying to land people on the island coupled with the dangers on the island itself, they only allow the trip if the weather isn’t bad and the waves aren’t big. You have to wonder how the monks made the trip out there let alone survived on the island if its that difficult to land the boat. You need to book your trip far in advance as they only allow about 200 people a day to land on the island and the captain needs a special license to do so. Almost every boat we had seen during our morning mix-up was going to just be circling the island. Trust me, circling the island is nice, hiking the Skellig Michael is 100% epic. This should be one of the things you plan your trip to Ireland around and then you need to hope and pray for good weather. Thankfully, as was the case for our entire trip, the weather was gorgeous!

Little Skellig

We headed out to sea and made our way to Little Skellig, a bird preserve no one is allowed to land on. You wouldn’t want to land on that island anyway due to the ridiculous number of birds on it. The number I read was that Little Skellig housed over 50,000 birds. After looping the boat around Little Skellig we made our way to the main event, the Skellig Michael. If Eoin was a character in a book about the sea, this island resembled an Irish version of Treasure Island.

Skellig Michael

Docking in a small cove, we disembarked from our boat and headed up the path. There are signs all over the place warning of falling rocks and to keep moving. This is a dangerous place, but well worth the risk. After a brief safety talk from one of the few people that stay on the island (for two months at a time, incredibly) to maintain it we began our climb.

The monks had laid or carved out slate stairs spiraling up the side of the island. The higher we climbed, the more incredible the views got. We reached a small valley between the two peaks on the island. On the left, was the taller of the two peaks on the island. You can’t access this towering summit unless you have a special permit. On the right, the stairs led up to the monastery on the smaller of the two peaks. In front and behind were sharp slopes down into the Atlantic Ocean.

The monastery on the smaller peak housed about twelve men looking for seclusion from civilization in order to grow closer to God. I can imagine they certainly felt secluded far out here on this mountainous island. One or two seeking even more solitude, the hermits, would live on the taller peak.

Walking around the monastery, we saw the structures the monks lived in. Beehive huts made out of stone stacked on top of each other. These structures had no luxuries at all. I essentially had to crawl through the door to get in, similar to the Staigue Fort on the Ring of Kerry. Something tells me that there weren’t any monks my size on this island.

As we explored nooks and crannies on the island, we had constant companions, birds. Birds flew all around us, soaring high into the air and landing right in front of us at times. My favorite of these birds, the puffin, only makes an appearance a few months out of the year before heading out to sea for the rest of the year. They are silly looking little black birds with colorful beaks. One look, and you’ll fall in love with them.

We were lucky that we were one of the last boat trips to land on the island for the day. This allowed us to have the entire island nearly to ourselves for the last hour of our trip. Out on the island without people, we were able to get some incredible shots of the island. As you can see from the 360° panorama below.

As was par for the course in Ireland, we didn’t want to leave. My wife and I both agree the Skellig Michael was hands down the coolest thing we did in Ireland. Way cooler than, spoiler, Dublin, the Croagh Patrick, or the world-famous Cliffs of Moher. If you’re visiting Ireland, landing on and hiking up the Skellig Michael is absolutely a must do. The views, the history, the sheer cool factor of it is truly unlike anything else I’ve ever done. I already wish I could go back.

“The Skellig Michael was hands down the coolest thing we did in Ireland.”

Onward to Dingle!

Upon returning from the Skelligs, it was time to finish the Ring of Kerry and head on to the Dingle Peninsula. We waved goodbye to the quaint charm of Portmagee, no mocking but we may have actually waived, and headed back to the Ring of Kerry towards Killarney. We had only been driving for a few miles on the N70 when we saw the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle. These castle ruins are covered in vines and provide an excellent photo spot if nothing else. While there, climb up into the second and third stories. You’ll feel like Irish royalty, I know we did.

As our day grew short and began to stretch into evening, we finished the gorgeous Ring of Kerry and arrived on the Dingle Peninsula. We’d be staying in an Airbnb house in Ballyferriter with an absolutely incredible view. I highly recommend staying there for the night as Breege is the sweetest woman on Airbnb. She did everything to make our stay as wonderful and as welcoming as possible, including having a large chalkboard sign welcoming me to the house which was a first for me.

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