The small, rocky island of Skellig Michael is accessible by boat from Portmaggee, 20km north of Waterville. When we first booked this trip months earlier, we were told that the weather conditions on that day would determine if the activity could occur. If the sea conditions were too treacherous the boats would be unable to disembark passengers safely onto the tiny, rock-hugging landing (not really a pier) at the island. Our luck was with us: blue skies! The boats only operated during that one day the entire week. The boat (below) was similar in size to a commercial fishing boat and held 12 passengers.
Skellig Michael and a sister island, Little Skellig, are 8 miles off the coast, a trip of a little over an hour. We were all instructed how to use the little buckets under our seats as the ocean swells were rather large and tummys could object to the trip! On the way in to the Skellig Michael landing, the boat’s captain, Pat, gave us a tour around the rocky Little Skellig island, which is a bird sanctuary. 23,000 pairs of gannets nest on every possible ledge; every white dot in this photo is a bird! We watched as parent birds nudged their young off the ledges for their first flights.
Skellig Michael rises 714′ from the sea and was home to a Catholic monastery for roughly 600 years, from the 6th to the 13th centuries. A steep path up the side of the rock included 600, often slippery, steps which had to be climbed to reach this settlement.
When landing on the island, the first order of business was to successfully get off the rocking boat. We had to time our exit from the boat with the rise and fall of the boat against the landing. Once off the boat and huddled with the other passengers on the small landing, close to the cliff face, we received a guide’s warning (yes, there were guides…) about the steep, unprotected, irregular stairs before we began the trek up the mountain. As the guide emphasized, there were NO handrails, and “it was a long way down if you slipped”! An item of general interest is that the island was a film location for two Star Wars movies (“The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi”) and many among our group were visiting for that reason.
During the walk, we came upon a haunting, natural rock sculpture (enhanced by the shadow).
As we continued to climb, the steps ahead turned and were hidden by even more rocks.
The island, the sea, the birds and the rock formations were all so fascinating that any thought or worry about the climbing itself escaped me. I was actually surprised when we finally reached the monastery compound at the top of the stairs. The compound entrance opened through a low space in a rock wall. We had to stoop through a small door to enter the compound, where we found a series of little beehive huts.
We were allowed plenty of time to explore and discovered there were several ways to access the compound. At least one was even more precarious than our initial approach.
As we began the trail back down the craggy hill, the lack of a handrail and the uneven stairs required focus and concentration. As we approached this overhanging rock near the bottom, we were able to see the final steps of the path.
We returned to the boat for a rather quick return to Portmaggee of about 40 minutes. The town’s colorful buildings greeted us as we approached, a cheerful ending to a perfect day!
To our surprise, Captain Pat offered to drive us back to our B&B in Waterville as it was on his way home. Unbeknownst to us, our B&B host, Abbie, had asked Pat to provide the ride, saving us the taxi fare. Typical Irish hospitality!