Skellig Michael is a remote, rocky island situated in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of County Kerry in Ireland. Famous for its remarkably preserved early Christian monastery and for being the filming location for two Star Wars movies, the island attracts pilgrims and film fans from all over the world. The island is also a haven for seabirds and as a result, thousands of twitchers and wildlife lovers take boats out to the island each year to see all manner of our feathered friends. Curious to know more about this UNESCO heritage site? Here are some of the most interesting facts about Skellig Michael near the coast of Ireland.
7 Interesting Facts About Skellig Michael near the coast of Ireland
1. Skellig Michael is off the west coast of Ireland
Sceilg Mhichíl aka Skellig Michael is a twin-pinnacled crag located in the Atlantic Ocean some 12km (7 miles) west of the Ivereagh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. A crag is a steep rugged rock or cliff usually isolated from other high ground. The highest point on Skellig Michael is the Spit which is 218 metres (714 feet) above sea level. The rock is 21.9 ha (54 acres). The word “skellig” derives from the old Irish word sceillec, which means a splinter of stone. Michael is for the archangel Michael. The island is defined by its twin peaks and intervening valley (known as Christ’s Saddle).
2. There are two Skellig Islands
Skellig Michael makes up part of the Skellig Islands. Once called “the Skellocks”, these comprise two small, steep, rocky islands. Skellig Michael aka Great Skellig is the largest of these islands. Little Skellig is the name of the other island.
3. Skellig Michael is the most westerly sacred site in Europe
Skellig Michael is the site of a monastic settlement that dates back to the 6th-century. Christian monks settled on Skellig Michael around 588AD and they stayed there until around the year 1100AD. The monastery consists of a small enclosure of stone huts and oratories. Today, these are still standing and are in remarkable condition considering their age. Then, in the 16th and 17th centuries, during the penal times, numerous Catholics found refuge on the island. Today, it is the most westerly sacred site in Europe and it attracts thousands of pilgrims each year.
4. Skellig Michael is a famous early medieval Irish monastic site
The monastery features an outer and inner enclosure and is situated on the sloping rock plateau at the north-eastern summit. There is a Large Oratory, the area around which is paved, and a series of huts/cells where the monks lived. There is also St. Michael’s Church, a Small Oratory, a place of worship, a toilet, the Upper Monks’ Garden, and the Monks’ Graveyard. The monks built three sets of steps to the monastery. The weather conditions dictated which steps the monks used. These are the East, South and North Steps. Only the South Steps are accessible by the public today. The South and North Steps meet at Christ’s Saddle. This is the only reasonably flat part of the island. As you walk around the island, you’ll see the massive drystone retaining walls and over a hundred stone crosses of varying sizes.
5. Skellig Michael is a haven for seabirds
The Skelligs are at the centre of an Important Bird Area which BirdWatch Ireland established in 2000. They are one of the most important sites for breeding seabirds in Ireland. Skellig Michael is a haven for some of the biggest breeding populations of Manx shearwater and storm petrel in the world. Other seabird species, for instance, fulmar, kittiwake, guillemot, gannet and puffin, also breed on Skellig Michael. Puffins arrive on the island in late spring and gannets start to arrive in March. By April, they cover every available ledge on the island.
6. Sceilg Mhichíl is a UNESCO site
UNESCO inscribed Sceilg Mhichíl on the World Heritage List in 1996 citing it as an outstanding and “unique example of an early religious settlement deliberately sited on a pyramidal rock in the ocean, preserved because of a remarkable environment”. Its isolation and difficulty in accessing the site are the main reasons why the stone structures of this Early Medieval Monastery has survived intact so well. The weather also plays a part – the island is frost-free.
7. Skellig Michael is Star Wars Island
Attention Star Wars fans! No doubt you are aware that Skellig Michael has a starring role in Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. The Atlantic outpost is the setting for a Jedi hideaway and many now call the place Star Wars Island. Fans of the film franchise flock to the rock every year to reenact their favourite scenes. You’ll find plenty of tour operators who will take you on a boat trip across the water to the Skelligs.