The Skellig Islands: How To Visit This “Incredible, Impossible, Mad Place” In 2020

History, tours, the Star Wars link, and lots of photos and videos

the skellig islands county kerry
Photo by the Irish Air Corps

The Skellig Islands (Skellig Michael, in particular) hit worldwide fame over the past 6 years.

That’s what appearing in a couple of Star Wars movies can do for a place.

I say ‘a couple of Star Wars movies’ as I wouldn’t know an Ewok if it bit me on the arse!

The Skelligs tend to top many things to do in Kerry visitor guides.

Hit play below to and you’ll see why!

The islands have been delighting those that visit long before George Lucas came knocking.

If you’re planning on visiting Skellig Michael, then you’ll find everything you need to know below.

In the guide below, we’ll take you through:

  • The history of the Skellig Islands
  • How the Star Wars link came about (there are videos of scenes where the island featured)
  • Advice on Skellig Michael tours (these can be a pain!)
  • Loads of photos and videos to get the wanderlust flowing

Skellig Michael: “An incredible, impossible, mad place” – George Bernard Shaw

Skellig Islands Ireland from afar
Photo by Caspar Diederik (@storytravelers) via Tourism Ireland

People have been marveling at the other-worldly beauty of the Skelligs for thousands of years.

Once upon a time, over 20 years before Star Wars creator George Lucas was born, a Nobel Prize and Oscar-winning Irish playwright discovered the wonders of the Skellig Islands.

skelligs from afar
Photo by Caspar Diederik (@storytravelers) via Tourism Ireland

On September 17th, 1910, George Bernard Shaw left the Kerry coast in an open boat and sailed across the choppy waters that lay between the islands and the mainland.

The boat and its passengers were destined for the larger of the two islands – Skellig Michael.

In a letter penned to a friend, Shaw described the island as “An incredible, impossible, mad place” that is “part of our dream world”.

Related Read: Drive the Skellig Ring (a lovely little alternative to the Ring of Kerry)

The Skellig Islands – what are they all about?

skellig michael views
Photo by Caspar Diederik (@storytravelers) via Tourism Ireland

Skellig Michael and Little Skellig jut from the Atlantic Ocean around 8 miles from Ballinskelligs Bay off the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula.

The remote and isolated islands have an almost prehistoric feel about them.

The Skelligs are widely regarded as one of Europe’s most perplexing and remote sacred sites.

In 1996, UNESCO gave recognition to Skellig Michael and its “outstanding universal value”, placing it upon the World Heritage List, where it sits proudly next to the likes of the Giants Causeway and Yellowstone National Park.

Related Read: If you’re visiting the islands, make sure to visit Valentia Island. It’s a stone’s throw from Portmagee and the scenery is out of this world.

How the Skelligs were formed

walking on skellig michael
Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan via Failte Ireland

It was during the Armorican/Hercynian Earth Movements that Skellig Michael first peeked above the Atlantic Ocean.

These movements led to the formation of the mountains of County Kerry, which Skellig Michael is connected to.

The mass of rock from which the island was formed dates back over 400 million years and consists of compressed sheets of sandstone mixed with silt and gravel.

At it’s tallest peak, Skellig Michael towers 715 feet above the waters below.

Religious Significance and Beehive Huts

Skellig michael aerial
Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan via Failte Ireland

Of the two islands, Skellig Michael boasts the most Religious and historical significance.

The island was first referenced in history in 1400BC and was called ‘home’ by a group of monks for the first time during the 8th century.

In pursuit of a greater union with God, a group of ascetic monks withdrew from civilisation to the remote island to begin a life of solitude.

beehive huts skellig michael
Photo by Caspar Diederik (@storytravelers) via Tourism Ireland

Life in the middle of the Atlantic is by no means easy, so the monks got to work and built several structures to make the island suitable to live on.

They constructed a Christian monastery, six beehive huts, two oratories and some terraces.

The cluster of six beehive huts (above) that housed the island’s inhabitants were constructed with slate and stand proud to this day – an immense feat considering the intense storms they’ve been subjected to over many years.

Related Read: Looking for some road trip inspiration? Have a gander at our guide to driving the Ring of Kerry.

A Stairway to Heaven

Steps on skellig michael
Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan via Tourism Ireland

The monks needed to conquer a grueling 600 steps each day as they made their way from the summit, where they lived, to the icy waters below, where they caught fish.

Life on Skellig Michael lasted up until the 12th century.

It’s commonly believed that colder weather and increased storms brought an end to life on the island.

Skellig Michael Tours (pretty damn hard to book)

skelling island tours
Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan via Failte Ireland

There are a number of different tour providers that offer a trip to or around the Skellig Islands, but be warned – you need to BOOK WELL IN ADVANCE. 

It’s also worth noting that the tours are weather dependent.

There’s also a handful of great vantage points scattered across the Ring of Kerry where you can check them out from afar.

The boat trip to the Skelligs takes 45 minutes and you have around 2 hours to explore the rock, take pictures and appreciate the fact that you’re standing on an island in the middle of the Atlantic that’s bursting at the seams with history.

Skellig Michael: Frequently Asked Questions

I get a handful of emails and DMs each week asking about the Skelligs.

Below, I’ve popped in the questions that tend to get asked the most.

Was Star Wars filmed on Skellig Michael?

Yes. The Skelligs featured in Star Wars film Episode VII “The Force Awakens” in 2014.

If you’ve watched the movie, you’ll see Skellig Michael at the end of the movie when Luke Skywalker gets reintroduced to viewers.

Filming on the island took place again in 2015.

This time, it was for the next installment of the franchise – Episode VIII “The Last Jedi”. 

Is Skellig Michael open?

The short answer is yes, but keep reading.

There are 2 types of tours that are offered by various operators

  • An eco-tour (you’ll sail around the islands)
  • A landing tour (you’ll hop off the boat onto Skellig Michael)

The eco-tours tend to run (check in advance) from late April to early October, while the landing tours tend to run from mid-May until the end of September.

Note that the weather will determine whether or not a tour runs, so keep in touch with your operator.

How do you get to Skellig Michael?

You need to use an official tour operator to reach the Skelligs.

That being said, I’ve also seen someone kayak to the island… yes, kayak (don’t try this)!

What does Skellig mean in Irish?

The word ‘Skellig’ comes from a Gaelic word that translates to ‘rock in the sea’.

How many steps are on Skellig Michael?

There are 600 steps that you’ll need to conquer if you visit the island.

Naturally enough, that means that some level of fitness is required.

Have you visited the Skellig Islands or do you plan to? They’re on my ever-growing list for 2019. Let me know in the comments below!

Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

1 COMMENT

  1. My husband and I took a boat tour around the Skellig Michael in June 2017 it was an incredible experience . Ireland is such a beautiful country I wish someday we get the opportunity to go back

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.