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Ireland

Stormy and mysterious Skellig Michael

Ireland

Stormy and mysterious Skellig Michael

In the 6th century, monks settled on Skellig Michael, a rocky island 12 km off the Irish coast, to isolate themselves from the world and be closer to God. The monastery at the top can only be reached by climbing the 670-step stairway.

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Skellig Michael: an island shrouded in mystery

Mysterious, ominous, breathtaking and intriguing all at once: Skellig Michael has a magical appeal. Rising from the cold Atlantic Ocean, the island evokes many questions. How did the 6th-century monks find their way to this remote rock? And how did they brave the inclement weather to build a monastery here?

To be blunt: a visit to Skellig Michael is not for the faint-hearted. The island is often plagued by rough seas and the 90-minute boat ride will truly put your sea legs to the test. The next challenge is disembarking at the concrete pier at the foot of the rock – no easy feat when the waves are pounding hard. But those who defy all these challenges are rewarded with a visit to one of the most mysterious islands in the world and will get to know more about the 6th-century monks who lived on this remote, storm-battered outpost.

The Skellig Islands © Dan O’Meara

670 steps
As one of the two Skellig Islands, located approximately 12 kilometres off the west coast of Ireland, Skellig Michael has great historic and religious significance. The islands are mentioned in writings that date back to as early as 1400 BC and feature in many Irish legends. Standing on a 230-metre-high rock, the St. Fionan’s Monastery was built between the 6th and 8th century. The only way to reach it is by climbing a 670-step stairway. At one point, there were three of these stairwells on various sides of the island. Wind direction and weather would determine which steps the monks would use. Today, there is only one way up. 

670 steps lead to the monastery at the top © Martin Schmidt

Stone beehives
At the top you will find a series of structures that are still remarkably well preserved, considering the inclement conditions they have endured for the last 1400 years. The monks used to live in stone huts resembling beehives. There is even a small chapel and a cemetery. Little is known about the monks; they probably survived by eating fish, sea birds and vegetables grown in the monastery’s garden. As the climate changed and the weather conditions worsened, the monks abandoned Skellig Michael in the 12th century and settled back on the mainland. 

The monks lived in stone huts in the shape of beehives © Noele Moore

Star Wars
Perceptive fans may already have noticed that Skellig Michael played an important role in the latest Star Wars film, Episode VII - The Force Awakens. It was featured in the last scene with Luke Skywalker, and rumour has it that the island will also be included in film’s sequel.