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.
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”.
Catapulted into the limelight after their Hollywood debut in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Skellig Islands are a wonderful little chunk of unspoilt history nestled off the coast of County Kerry.
The Skellig Islands – what are they all about?
Jutting from the Atlantic Ocean around 8 miles from Ballinskelligs Bay off the tip of the Iveragh Peninsula stand Skellig Michael and Little Skellig.
Remote. Isolated. Beautiful. The islands have an almost prehistoric feel about them.
Each time I lay eyes on them I find my mind wandering back to the opening scene in the first Jurassic Park movie where the helicopter advances upon the dinosaur-infested island.
The islands 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.
How they were formed
During the Armorican / Hercynian Earth Movements, where the mountains of County Kerry were created, Skellig Michael, which is connected to these mountains, peeked above the Atlantic Ocean.
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
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.
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.
A Stairway to Heaven
The monks needed to conquer a gruelling 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)
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.
If you prefer to book tours based on TripAdvisor reviews then Casey’s Boat Trips ranks top for trips to the island with a boat departing daily from Portmagee marina at 10:00 am.
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.
If you missed out on visiting, here’s a heap of pictures of the islands to tide you over.
Explore the Island from your couch
Won’t get a chance to visit in person?
Tap play on the video below to a glimpse of what exploring Skellig Michael entails.