Skellig Michael (Irish: Sceilg Mhichíl) has always intrigued people but since being used as a location for the Star Wars movies, the interest in this little island off the south west coast of Kerry has skyrocketed! The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of only two in Ireland – the other being Brú na Bóinne. Thankfully the number of people who can visit Skellig Michael is limited to protect its fragile environment. The flip side of this, of course, is that it can be pretty hard to get a booking to land on Skellig Michael if you don’t get yourself organised months in advance!
Trips to both Skellig Michael and Little Skellig only run during the months of May to late Sept/early October and are weather dependent too, so getting to Skellig Michael is not always straightforward. We first attempted to get out to Skellig Michael last September but stormy weather conditions put a stop to that. Instead we spent the weekend gazing out the islands longingly from the mainland! However, things were looking good for our second trip. The week prior to our trip, the boats had been cancelled for a few days but we were in luck this time. Our booking just so happened to coincide with the start of the current heatwave being experienced throughout Ireland and we couldn’t have got a nicer day for it.
Going in June also meant there was the added bonus that the Puffins would be present. They breed on the island from April to early August and I was very excited about seeing them up close and personal for the first time. I mean look at how cute they are.
To be honest, from start to finish, the whole day was just incredible. Everything about these islands is magical. Just getting up close to the Skelligs is an experience in itself. So if you are unable to do the landing tour, I would still highly recommend the eco tour which brings you around the Skellig Islands instead. With multiple daily departures there is often still availability long after the landing trips are sold out.
After leaving the picturesque fishing village of Portmagee we headed for Little Skellig first, getting up nice and close to the island to check it out. I’ve never seen anything like the amount of birds we encountered. Little Skellig is actually home to around 23,000 pairs of gannets, making it the second largest colony in Europe. The sight and sound of the gannets (along with the other birds on the island) circling overhead is unreal.
Having circled Little Skellig, we headed towards the main attraction, Skellig Michael. I’m pretty sure the term jaw-dropping must have been coined by the first people to get up close and personal to this island! Arriving on a perfect blue-sky day, you can almost see the appeal of leaving everything behind and setting up a life here. Then you pretty quickly get a grip of yourself. The monks who established a monastery on this island and lived out their days here, did not have it easy.
The weather is generally unpredictable and harsh and the sea can be very rough. Much of the 600 plus steps on the island had to be cut out from solid rock by hand. Tools were basic and conditions treacherous. At the top of those steps, are the well preserved remains of the monastic settlement, possibly built as early as the sixth century. The beehive huts, which you can still see today were built with stone only, no mortar. They were layered on top of each other in such a way that not a drop of rain could enter.
What the monks achieved is truly remarkable but I have to admit that I was ever so slightly distracted from their efforts by the seriously cute Puffins! I had no idea there would be so many. They were literally everywhere, taking off and landing all around us in their clumsy little way. Others were just perched on the steps beside us as we ascended. We had 2.5 hrs on the island. It takes between 20 – 30 minutes to get up the steps to visit the monastery but I was so busy watching and photographing the Puffins, that we only made it to the top with about 15 mins to spare before we had to head back down again. That meant we did miss out on the talk by the tour guide too, so my tip would be to get up top first and then enjoy photographing the Puffins afterwards. They’ll still be there on the way down!
Speaking of coming down, we didn’t find the steps too daunting but I can imagine if the weather was wet or windy that would be a different story. There have been fatalities on Skellig Michael and if you have a fear of heights that would definitely change things too. Go at your own pace and don’t be afraid to go down on your bum if you need to. We saw quite a few people doing that when we were there.
Visiting Skellig Michael is certainly a unique experience and even if it takes several attempts, you’ll find it was well worth the effort. I really can’t recommend this trip highly enough. Given my name is Kerry and the fact that my Dad is from Kerry, I’m always going to be a bit biased towards this part of the country but after our trip José announced (quite unprompted might I add!) that Kerry is definitely the most spectacular county in Ireland. Surely we can’t both be wrong!
We did our trip with Sea Quest Skellig Tours, which I want to mention because both Dave and Derek who led our tour to the Skellig Islands were so friendly and enthusiastic throughout the trip. They were full of information, always asking if everyone was ok and most importantly making sure that everyone got their photo in front of the islands! They really added to the whole experience and made it a day that we won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Ireland and want to include Skellig Michael on your itinerary be sure to try and book well in advance. If it’s not possible, take the eco tour or chance your arm and get down to the marina in Portmagee early in the morning and hope that someone else has cancelled on the day. You might just get lucky like this couple did on their holiday!
Just one last thing, beware of the poo. There are no loos on the island for humans or any for birds either, as it happens. While you might be able to control yourself, the Puffins are not shy about just letting loose everywhere. I’m serious, they have no shame! And not to be disgusting but it’s kind of a messy, projectile affair. We saw a few people caught in the firing line. You might not even notice. I came home with some nice little souvenir splashes on my camera and I haven’t cleaned it off yet. If bird poo brings good luck then I reckon Puffin poo is the ultimate lucky charm. Bye now, I’m off to buy my lotto ticket.