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Skellig Michael: Ireland’s Most Striking Destination


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Jocelyn Leech



Welcome to Skellig Michael, Ireland’s most striking destination that will leave you in awe of its beauty and historical significance. Located off the coast of County Kerry, this remote island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its rugged landscape, wildlife, and the remarkable monastic settlement that rests upon its ancient cliffs.


Skellig Michael, or also known as Great Skellig, is a dramatic pinnacle rising 714 feet out of the Atlantic Ocean. Its jagged peaks and steep cliffs have captivated visitors for centuries and continue to draw adventurers seeking a unique and awe-inspiring experience.


The island’s history is as intriguing as its landscape. Inhabited by early Christian monks from the 6th to 12th century, Skellig Michael served as a place of solitude and prayer. The monastic settlement, with its beehive huts built into the rocky terraces, stands as a testament to the devotion and resilience of these early settlers.


Aside from its historical significance, Skellig Michael offers a sanctuary for a variety of wildlife. The steep cliffs provide nesting grounds for thousands of seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, and gannets. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of seals basking on the rocky shores or dolphins playing in the surrounding waters.


For those seeking a truly immersive experience, the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre serves as an excellent starting point. Here, you can learn about the island’s history, wildlife, and the challenging lives of the monks who once called Skellig Michael their home.


But how can you explore this enchanting island? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we will delve into the history of Skellig Michael, explore its unique landscape and wildlife, uncover the secrets of the monastic settlement, and provide you with valuable information on how to visit this extraordinary destination.


So strap on your hiking boots, prepare to be amazed, and get ready to embark on an adventure unlike any other — welcome to Skellig Michael, where history and nature converge in an unforgettable experience.


History of Skellig Michael

The history of Skellig Michael dates back over a millennium. The island’s name is derived from the Irish word “sceilig,” meaning “rock,” which accurately describes its rugged and imposing nature.


The earliest known inhabitants of Skellig Michael were Christian monks who sought seclusion and solitude in the 6th century. These brave individuals braved the treacherous seas to find solace on the isolated island, choosing the rocky outcrop as their sanctuary for prayer and contemplation.


The monks established a monastic settlement on the island, comprised of a collection of beehive huts and a church. These unique stone structures, also known as clochans, were ingeniously constructed without the use of mortar, standing as a testament to the skill and resourcefulness of the early Christian inhabitants.


Through the centuries, the monks lived an austere and challenging existence on Skellig Michael. They relied on fishing, foraging, and farming on the limited arable land to sustain themselves. Their isolation from the mainland made survival difficult, but it also allowed for undisturbed spiritual reflection.


Skellig Michael’s significance as a place of worship and devotion continued for approximately six centuries, but by the 12th century, the monks had relocated to the mainland due to changing conditions and increasing Viking raids. The island was later abandoned and left to the elements.


In modern times, the striking beauty and historical significance of Skellig Michael began to captivate explorers and historians alike. The island gained recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, acknowledging its outstanding universal value and preserving its rich cultural and natural heritage.


More recently, the island garnered worldwide attention through its appearance in the Star Wars film franchise. It served as a filming location for the iconic scenes in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” further elevating Skellig Michael’s prominence as a must-visit destination.


Today, Skellig Michael stands as a testament to the resilience and dedication of those early Christian monks. Its dramatic cliffs and historic ruins transport visitors back in time, offering a glimpse into an era marked by rugged devotion and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.


As you embark on your journey to Skellig Michael, keep in mind the island’s fascinating history and the profound impact it has had on those who inhabited it. Prepare to immerse yourself in a unique chapter of Ireland’s past and marvel at the enduring legacy of this remarkable island.


The Unique Landscape of Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael is renowned for its awe-inspiring and unique landscape that sets it apart from any other destination. The rugged island, rising dramatically out of the Atlantic Ocean, offers a glimpse into the raw power and beauty of nature.


The most striking feature of Skellig Michael is its towering cliffs that define its jagged silhouette. These cliffs, reaching heights of up to 714 feet, provide a dramatic backdrop for the island’s historic ruins and abundant wildlife. As you approach the island by boat, the sheer magnitude of the cliffs is sure to leave you in awe.


The island’s terrain is dominated by steep slopes and rocky terraces. Its jagged and uneven surfaces add to the sense of adventure and exploration as you navigate the ancient pathways and stairways that lead to the monastic settlement at the summit.


Skellig Michael’s unique landscape is the result of centuries of erosion by the relentless force of the sea and wind. The exposed nature of the island has shaped its rugged features, creating a landscape that is both striking and fragile.


Exploring the island, you’ll encounter an array of fascinating geological formations. From sea caves carved into the cliffs to narrow gullies, the island offers a variety of natural wonders to discover.


One of the most remarkable aspects of Skellig Michael’s landscape is its isolation. Located approximately 7 miles off the coast, the island’s remote location contributes to its unspoiled and untouched beauty. The absence of modern development and infrastructure allows visitors to experience the island’s natural splendor in its purest form.


As you traverse the rugged terrain, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding Atlantic Ocean. On clear days, you can even catch a glimpse of the Skellig Islands’ sister isle, Little Skellig, which serves as a nesting ground for thousands of seabirds.


The seasonal changes also bring unique colors and atmospheres to Skellig Michael. In the spring, the island is adorned with vibrant wildflowers, while the autumn months showcase a golden landscape as the vegetation prepares for the approaching winter.


Visiting Skellig Michael is a truly immersive experience that allows you to connect with the untamed and untouched beauty of nature. From the imposing cliffs to the rugged contours, every aspect of the island’s unique landscape tells a story of resilience and natural wonder.


As you explore Skellig Michael, take a moment to reflect on the power of nature and the undeniable allure of this remote and captivating island. Drink in the breathtaking views and let the island’s unique landscape transport you to a realm unlike any other.


Wildlife on Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael is not only a haven for history enthusiasts but also a sanctuary for a diverse range of wildlife. The remote location and untouched landscape create the ideal habitat for many species, making the island a haven for nature lovers.


One of the most prominent wildlife attractions on Skellig Michael is the abundant birdlife. The towering cliffs provide nesting sites for thousands of seabirds, including the charismatic puffins, elegant guillemots, and majestic gannets. Witnessing these birds in their natural habitat, swooping and diving with remarkable agility, is a truly awe-inspiring experience.


The puffins, with their vibrant beaks and comical waddling walk, steal the show with their whimsical presence. These charming seabirds typically breed on the island during the summer months, creating a buzz of activity with their distinctive calls and constant coming and going.


Skellig Michael is also an important refuge for other seabird species, such as fulmars, kittiwakes, and razorbills. The cacophony of their calls combined with the breathtaking backdrop of the cliffs creates a sensory symphony that immerses visitors in the wild beauty of the island.


While exploring the island, keep an eye out for the resident Atlantic grey seals that often lounge on the rocky shores. These marine mammals blend perfectly with the rugged landscape, and observing them in their natural habitat is a privilege.


If you’re lucky, you may even spot dolphins frolicking in the surrounding waters while en route to Skellig Michael. These playful and intelligent creatures occasionally make appearances, delighting visitors with their acrobatic displays.


It’s important to note that Skellig Michael is committed to protecting its wildlife and maintaining its fragile ecosystem. The island operates under strict conservation guidelines to ensure the preservation of its unique natural heritage. Visitors are encouraged to respect the wildlife and follow the guidelines provided, allowing future generations to continue enjoying this incredible wildlife sanctuary.


As you explore Skellig Michael, take the time to appreciate not only the historic ruins but also the incredible diversity of life that thrives in this remote setting. From the soaring seabirds to the sunbathing seals, each encounter with wildlife on Skellig Michael is a reminder of the interconnectedness of nature and the delicate balance we must strive to protect.


The Monastic Settlement on Skellig Michael

Perched upon the steep cliffs of Skellig Michael lies a remarkable testament to the spiritual devotion and ingenuity of the early Christian monks – the monastic settlement. This ancient site, dating back to the 6th century, is a captivating reminder of the resilience and commitment of those who sought solace and prayer in this remote corner of the world.


The monastic settlement consists of a series of beehive huts and a church, carefully constructed into the natural terraces of the island. These beehive huts, also known as clochans, were ingeniously built without the use of mortar, using only locally sourced stone. The interlocking stones create sturdy yet cozy spaces that protected the monks from the harsh weather conditions.


These hut-like structures, resembling stacked beehives, provide a glimpse into the daily lives of the monks. Each hut served a specific purpose, whether it was for sleeping, cooking, storage, or communal activities. Exploring the ruins allows you to imagine the simple yet challenging existence that the monks endured on this isolated island.


At the center of the monastic settlement stands a well-preserved church, known as “Saint Michael’s Church.” This sacred space, once filled with prayer and contemplation, acts as a focal point for visitors as they witness the merging of spiritual devotion and stunning natural surroundings.


The church, constructed with the same meticulous craftsmanship as the beehive huts, contains ornate carvings and stone crosses that speak to the faith and artistry of its creators. These intricately carved details reflect the skill and dedication of the early Christian inhabitants, who sought to create a sacred place of worship and reflection in this rugged landscape.


Visiting the monastic settlement on Skellig Michael takes you on a journey back in time, allowing you to glimpse the inner world of these devoted monks. As you follow the winding pathways and ascend the ancient stone steps, a sense of awe and reverence fills the air.


It’s important to note that due to the delicate nature of the site, access to the clochans and the church may be restricted during certain times to ensure the preservation of these historic structures. Nonetheless, the presence of the monastic settlement, even from a distance, serves as a profound reminder of the enduring legacy of these early Christian pioneers.


As you traverse the monastic settlement, take a moment to reflect on the dedication and devotion of the monks who once called Skellig Michael their home. Their humble lives and indomitable spirit continue to resonate through the ages, reminding us of the strength that comes from inner contemplation and the power of faith.


The Skellig Experience Visitor Centre

For those seeking a deeper understanding of Skellig Michael’s history and wildlife, a visit to the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre is a must. Situated in the nearby town of Portmagee, the center serves as an excellent starting point for your journey to Skellig Michael.


The Skellig Experience Visitor Centre provides an immersive and educational experience, offering a glimpse into the island’s rich cultural and natural heritage. Through interactive exhibits, audiovisual presentations, and informative displays, visitors can delve into the history, geology, and wildlife of Skellig Michael.


The center’s exhibits bring the island to life, allowing visitors to learn about the formation of the Skellig Islands and the unique geological forces that shaped their dramatic landscapes. You can explore the flora and fauna that call the islands home, gaining a deeper appreciation for the delicate ecosystem that exists on Skellig Michael.


As you dive into the history of the island, the center provides insights into the lives of the early Christian monks who resided on Skellig Michael. Discover their daily routines, their isolation from the mainland, and the extraordinary achievements they accomplished in such a challenging environment.


One of the highlights of the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre is a virtual reality experience that allows visitors to soar above the Skellig Islands, providing a bird’s-eye view of the majestic cliffs, monastic settlement, and the surrounding beauty of the Atlantic Ocean. This immersive experience transports you to Skellig Michael, preparing you for the wonders that await during your actual visit.


The center also offers practical information and safety guidelines for those planning to embark on a trip to Skellig Michael. Detailed information about boat tours, weather conditions, and visitor restrictions ensure that you are well-prepared for your adventure.


Before setting foot on the island, take the time to explore the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre, as it will greatly enrich your understanding and appreciation of Skellig Michael. The center’s knowledgeable staff are on hand to answer your questions and provide valuable insights into the island’s history, wildlife, and cultural significance.


In addition, the visitor center serves as a hub for booking boat tours to Skellig Michael, allowing you to plan your visit and ensure a smooth and unforgettable experience. Boat tours typically depart from Portmagee, providing a picturesque journey through the Atlantic waters to the island’s awe-inspiring cliffs.


Whether you are an avid history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a unique adventure, the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre sets the stage for an incredible journey to Skellig Michael. Immerse yourself in the island’s stories, legends, and natural wonders, and make memories that will last a lifetime.


How to Visit Skellig Michael

Visiting Skellig Michael is a truly extraordinary experience, but it requires careful planning and preparation due to the island’s remote location and limited access. Here are the key steps to ensure a successful and unforgettable visit:


1. Check for Availability: Skellig Michael is open to visitors from May to October, but access is subject to weather conditions and conservation efforts. It is essential to check for availability and make reservations well in advance, as the number of daily visitors is limited to preserve the island’s fragile ecosystem.


2. Choose a Boat Operator: Boat tours are the only way to reach Skellig Michael. There are several licensed boat operators based in Portmagee and other nearby towns that offer tours to the island. Research and choose a reputable operator that complies with safety regulations and provides an informative and enjoyable experience.


3. Plan Your Journey: Skellig Michael is located 7 miles off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. You can reach Portmagee, the main departure point, by car or public transportation. It is advisable to arrive early and allocate enough time for parking and the check-in process.


4. Dress Appropriately: The weather on the island can be unpredictable, so it is essential to dress in layers and wear comfortable clothes and sturdy footwear. Be prepared for strong winds, rain, and potentially cold temperatures, even during the summer months.


5. Pack Essential Supplies: While on the island, there are no facilities or food vendors available. It is essential to bring your own water, snacks, and any necessary medications. It is also advisable to carry sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and a waterproof jacket.


6. Listen to Safety Briefings: Before embarking on the boat tour and upon arrival on Skellig Michael, listen attentively to any safety briefings and instructions provided by the boat operator and island guides. They will provide important information on safety procedures, wildlife conservation, and the dos and don’ts while exploring the island.


7. Be Mindful of the Environment: Skellig Michael is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is crucial to respect its natural and historical significance. Follow all conservation guidelines, stay on designated paths, and avoid disturbing wildlife or removing any artifacts from the island.


8. Take Your Time and Immerse Yourself: Once on Skellig Michael, take your time to explore the monastic settlement, enjoy the breathtaking views, and absorb the serene atmosphere. The sense of history and natural beauty is truly immersive, so allow yourself to be fully present and embrace the unique experience.


9. Capture Memories Responsibly: It’s natural to want to capture the beauty of Skellig Michael with your camera or smartphone. However, be mindful of your surroundings and fellow visitors, and do not let photography distract from your experience or compromise your safety.


10. Leave No Trace: As you leave the island, remember to take all your belongings and any litter with you. Leave Skellig Michael as you found it, ensuring that future generations can also enjoy its unspoiled beauty.


By following these steps and approaching your visit with respect and mindfulness, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on an unforgettable journey to Skellig Michael. Prepare for a leap back in time, a communion with nature, and memories that will last a lifetime.



Skellig Michael is a destination that offers a unique blend of history, natural beauty, and wildlife, making it an unforgettable experience for adventure seekers, nature enthusiasts, and history buffs alike.


The rugged landscape and towering cliffs create a dramatic backdrop for the ancient monastic settlement, serving as a testament to the devotion and resilience of the early Christian monks. Exploring the beehive huts and the church, visitors can transport themselves back in time and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and achievements of these remarkable individuals.


Skellig Michael’s unique and untouched landscape provides a sanctuary for a diverse range of wildlife. The cliffs are teeming with seabirds, including the adorable puffins, while the rocky shores provide a resting place for sunbathing seals. Witnessing these creatures in their natural environment is an awe-inspiring experience that truly connects visitors with the wonders of the natural world.


The Skellig Experience Visitor Centre serves as an invaluable resource, providing insights into the history, geology, and wildlife of Skellig Michael. The center enhances the overall experience, allowing visitors to gain a deeper appreciation for the island’s cultural and natural heritage before embarking on their journey.


Visiting Skellig Michael requires careful planning, with limited availability and strict regulations in place to preserve its delicate ecosystem. However, for those fortunate enough to experience this remote sanctuary, they are rewarded with a journey of a lifetime.


As you explore Skellig Michael, remember to respect and cherish this precious destination. Follow the conservation guidelines, be mindful of the wildlife, and leave no trace behind. By doing so, you contribute to the preservation of this unique site for future generations.


Skellig Michael offers more than just a tourist destination. It is a place where history intertwines with nature, creating a profound and unforgettable experience that will leave you with a sense of wonder and appreciation for the extraordinary beauty of our world.


So prepare yourself for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, immerse yourself in the history and splendor of Skellig Michael, and let this remote island become a cherished memory that will stay with you forever.