Skellig Michael, Ireland

Skellig Michael is one of the most amazing places that I have been to. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience…because I would never do it again. While the island is incredibly unique and fantastic place, the only way to get there is on a boat trip of at least an hour across seas completely exposed to the open North Atlantic, which was the longest and most terrifying and hour of my life. Maybe I went on a particularly rough day, so don’t let me put you off because it is definitely worth visiting…just know what you’re getting into.

Skellig Michael. You can see the trail on the lower left side.

Skellig Michael is UNESCO heritage site, so it is strictly controlled. Visitors are only allowed 2.5 hours on the island and can only get there on a small boats run by licensed operators (I think there are only about 12 boats that are allowed to dock there), who are mostly based in Portmagee on the west end of the Inveragh Peninsula, aka the Ring of Kerry.

Skellig Michael had been on my bucket list for years, so I was very excited to finally have a chance to get there. Unfortunately, when I tried to reserve the boat trip months in advance, it was already booked up after becoming famous in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (the island Luke Skywalker has living on). I was bummed about potentially missing out but decided to show up at the dock in Portmagee to see if there was a last minute cancellation and as luck would have it, I lucked out by getting a spot on a little boat run by a hilarious old local fisherman who had to be at least 80 years old. He welcomed us on board with a quick safety briefing, casually mentioned that a few people had died visiting the island but not to worry because he had done this trip a couple of times now, so he figured he mostly had the hang of it (he later elaborated that by “a couple”, he meant a couple of thousand).

Skellig Michael from the mainland (on the right).

The first few minutes of the trip were great, everyone was cheerful, eagerly anticipating the wonders to come and blissfully ignorant of the sheer terror that was ahead. then we left the safety of the sheltered bay and got into the open North Atlantic, which greeted us with big rolling waves seemingly coming from every direction at once. The boat lurched and rocked wildly and chugged along to the island for what seemed like an eternity. I am no sailor, so I held on for dear life, except for the time that I had to hold onto the lady beside me so that she didn’t fall over the side while vomiting. Good times…

The tiny dock on Skellig Michael. I have never been so happy to be on solid land again.

But it was all worth it once we got to the island. I have never felt so grateful to be on solid land again! The first thing I saw on the island was a woman lying down on the dock in the fetal position looking half dead. She came all that way only to end up so sick she couldn’t even see the island.  From the dock, it’s a steep hike up a lot of stone steps to get to the cluster of beehive huts where the hardcore hermit monks lived. The island is basically a little jagged island sticking out of the ocean, so it was a steep hike to get up there, with great views of the nearby islands, the mainland and thousands of puffins that were nesting on the island.

Lots of steps up to the village

I took my time, soaked in the scenery and wondered what it was like to live here. Those monks took the “get away from it all” idea pretty far. I read that monks at that time would seek out solitude by becoming hermits in remote areas such as mountains, little islands in lakes, etc. I guess someone decided that wasn’t hardcore enough, so they took their hermit game to the next level and went full out.

The little “village” of beehive huts where the monks lived.

Towards the top of the island is the little village of stone beehive shaped huts that the monks lived in. It must have been a tough place to live; there is no wood on the island, not much to eat besides seabirds and whatever you could catch in the ocean if the waves weren’t too rough, harsh weather and a very dangerous crossing to get back to the mainland. There were quite a few huts, so at some point there was a decent amount of monks living there. A warden gives provides a history lesson at the huts, then the rest of the time is spent exploring the island. There are some very interesting rock formations to check out and lots of seabirds to watch. After a fascinating 2.5 hours of exploration, it was a long walk down to the dock to face the rough seas again. On the way back, the boat went alongside Little Skellig, an even more steep sided island than Skellig Michael.

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