Christian monks chose the Skelligs, two rocky islets lying seven miles off the coast of County Kerry, as a place to live in peaceful isolation in the 6th century, where they built cylindrical stone beehive huts. Lucasfilm chose Skellig Michael, or Greater Skellig, as Luke Skywalker’s hideaway, featured heavily in 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The rocks are also host to an important seabird colony, with thousands of puffins and other species breeding here (no porgs, though). From May to October, visitors take the ferry that runs from the village of Portmagee to Skellig Michael. The crossing takes an hour and can be rough, and the monastery, which includes six beehive huts and two oratories, is at the summit of around 600 exposed and uneven steep stone steps. However, be prepared—visitor numbers are limited, and the crossing is weather dependent. If you don’t make it out to the rocks, visit the Skellig Experience on nearby (and easily accessible) Valentia Island to learn more about the islands’ history and nature.
By Yvonne Gordon, AFAR Local Expert
Beehive Huts on the Summit of Skellig Michael
Ireland is both rugged and beautiful, and Skellig Michael is no exception. Getting here isn't exactly easy, and the final leg of the journey is marked by a nearly 600-step walk up a steep and winding mountainous island path with no hand rails or safety rails. This isn't your leisurely stroll in the park, but your reward is the summit of Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once inhabited by Christian monks which offers a picture perfect look into antiquity and stunning views of the ocean and nearby island of Small Skellig, which is a birder's paradise. These beehive huts and stone constructions were inhabited up until about the 12th or 13th century, and still stand today in nearly perfect form, waiting for the dedicated to make their way to the top of the island. If you have trouble with stairs or heights, this is not the undertaking for you. My wife and I did the trip at 38 and 36 years old, and it is an experience of a lifetime for sure.
By Joseph Smith
UNESCO Heritage Site Skellig Michael Climb
There are over 600 stone steps that must be climbed to reach the summit of this tiny Island in Ireland. Located in the chilly Atlantic waters near the coast of Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland, Skellig Michael is not for the faint (or weak) of heart. There are no guardrails or regular caution signs, nor ropes to hang on to. The winds whip here and the rocks are slick and moss-covered, and in some places, the steps crumble and will tilt dangerously under the weight of a foot. For our ascent, it was lightly drizzling on an overcast May morning, which made the journey even more treacherous. We stopped occasionally to take photos (such as this one) and carried on, passing more and more stopped people as we neared the top. Some didn't make it to the summit at all, either due to a fear of heights or lack of energy, and the faces of several teenagers paralyzed with fear halfway up the climb almost sealed the deal for my wife, but she pressed on. There are few things in life that we count as accomplishments, but this is one of them. It wasn't necessarily the physical feat at 38 & 36 years old, or the nauseating boat ride in the churning waves of the Atlantic ocean, or even the fact that I was hung over from the previous night in Dingle. No, this journey was significant because a few days before this climb, two people close to us had passed due to cancer, and we felt compelled to carry on despite that: we chose not to stop.
By Joseph Smith