On my hike around the Kerry Way in western Ireland a few years ago I took a day off to visit the Skellig Islands – a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Skellig Islands were the highlight of my three week trip.
Where are the Skellig Islands?
The Skellig Islands are two steep and rocky islands lying about 16 kilometres off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula in western Ireland. They are accessed by boat from either Portmagee or Caherdaniel. It can be a scary boat ride out and the toughest part of the trip – at least in my opinion.
The smaller of the islands is home to 28,000 breeding pairs of gannets. These birds have a wingspan of six feet so the sheer mass of birds is mind boggling. They have the good sense to leave for Africa sometime in October and return again in the spring.
The larger island goes by the name of Skellig Michael. It was originally settled in 490 AD by Christian monks. The monks endured at least four Viking raids but remained on the island for about 500 years. The island was abandoned in the twelfth century when the monks headed to the Augustinian monastery on the mainland. Two lighthouses were established beginning in 1820 but apart from the lighthouse keepers there has been little human traffic so the site is in excellent shape.
The Skellig Islands became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
What to do on the Skellig Islands
A visit to Skellig Michael requires a head for heights and the ability to climb 600 stairs. The beehive huts that are part of the monastery are built at the top of the stairs. The island consists of nothing but cliffs. There are no handrails so people with a fear of heights can be seen coming down the stairs on their butts. There are a few small flat sections so one can bring a lunch and enjoy the view. Puffins nest on the steep hillside so you can also enjoy watching their comings and goings.
Have you been to the Skellig Islands? How would you fare climbing the steep stairs?