Our Visit to Mystical Skellig Michael in Ireland

Created by Colleen Sims * 15 June 2022

The Island of Skellig Michael, seen from our boat

Skellig Still Closed Until Further Notice

We took a punt and moved our Skellig boat trip from Tuesday to Thursday, ever hopeful that maybe someone in Dublin would have been out to the island, inspected the rockfall, and declared that it was safe for visitors. Foolhardy of course as no such thing happened but there was always a chance. Instead of our planned adventure we did still take a trip around the Islands; which was far better than nothing at all.

Skellig Micheal is named after the archangel Michael, with “Skellig” derived from the Irish word sceilig, meaning a splinter of stone. I was sad not to be able to climb up the steep sides of this mystical place but happy to at least get up close and personal.

We left Portmaghee as the sun was rising and in the shelter of the little bay the sea felt calm. As we continued out into the open waters of the Atlantic, the swell started to throw our little boat around. I asked the guide if it was choppier than normal today and he laughed and said firmly “no”. I guess they must see some pretty amazing weather around these islands!

Close of of Little Skellig with breaking waves and nesting birds

As we approached the islands the boat changed course and slowed, a school of dolphins had come beside us to say hello! We’ve been searching for these illusive creatures on every coastal walk so far but this was the first time we spotted any. Next we spotted puffins, their babies are called Pufflings! We never spotted the babies but we did see that puffins fly over in an odd fashion, they have little wings so they have to flap a great deal; it looks like hard work being a puffin! Gerry was thrilled! These were both on his ‘must see’ list!

Little Skellig

As we got closer to the first of the two islands, called Little Skellig, we spotted thousands of birds flying overhead and even the odd seal sunbathing on the rocks This island is home to a gannet colony and there are around 60,000 of them here each year. The guide told us that we were lucky today as the wind was in our favour, the smell can sometimes be over-powering! They’re really big birds close-up, especially as you see them flying right overhead and diving into the sea for their catch.

Next we approached Skellig Michael. I tried to imagine the few hardy men arriving here 1400 years ago and thinking ” mmm… yes this is the perfect place to build a monastery”. Our guide explained that these islands were on the edge of the known world at the time and those men had no idea what lay ahead of them. And yet, they built homes here and a place to worship, they built homes and walls and they even carved hundreds of steps into the cliffs. They created large wells to catch and store rain water and for almost a thousand years monks lived on the island.

Gerry watching Puffins and the landing dock on Skellig Michael

Star Wars

In more recent history (in the last century) 2 lighthouses were built and 30 babies have been born here! But it was decided it was unsafe to keep manned light-houses and today only the care-takers of the islands live here in the summer.

We were told that the rockfall apparently was minor. The locals blamed ‘Dublin’ for closing the landings. The crew told us that it was totally fine for visits but their hands are tied. We never got to land but we did get pretty close. We could see the steps that we would have climbed, we could see the high walls of the monastery at the very top of the island but we could only imagine what it would have been like, nonetheless we’re glad we made the return visit.

Skellig Michael was used in a recent Star Wars film and because of this it has become a popular tourist destination. But the paths are steep and open and with so many visitors, safety is paramount. And so the island’s secrets remained beyond our reach; at least for this visit.

Caherdanial on the Wild Atlantic Way

The men on the boat had told us about a walk that we should look for. They told us to drive on to Caherdaniel and head to the beach. I’m not sure if we found their walk but we did find Caherdaniel and it’s ancient ruined abbey on Derrynane Bay. We walked from one side of the enormous sweep to the other and back again. We searched for crabs in the rockpools at the far side of the bay. We’d almost given up hope of finding one until the very last pool, where one lazy crab sauntered across the sandy floor, trying (and failing) to catch a tiny fish that swam across his path.

Ancient Abbey ruins at Caherdanial

We had walked for so long that the tide had turned and we were surprised to see our route was now underwater. We walked higher up the beach and stopped to watch the jellyfish get lifted back into the ocean, the beaches are really littered with them and I wondered if they sting much!

We stopped in the tiny little pub on our way out of the village. The Blind Piper is no tourist trap. It’s just a tiny bar, with wooden chairs and tables that may have seen better days, but they had great music choices and they had Gluten Free beer! It was the perfect end to a fabulous day!

part of the huge sweeping bay at Cahardanial
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