SPOILER ALERT – IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FORCE AWAKENS, THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION
The Skellig Islands are a twin presence of dark, foreboding rocky mounds, some thirteen kilometres off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula, sitting steadfastly against the relentless pounding of the Atlantic Ocean’s waves. A popular sight and diversion for those touring the Ring of Kerry, the Islands consist of Little Skellig and Great Skellig.
Little Skellig is off limits, a stony, ghostly white home to a fabulous array of birdlife, including the largest colony of northern gannets in Ireland. However, Great Skellig – or Skellig Michael as it’s more commonly known – was occupied by Christian monks who built their settlement on a terraced shelf, 120 metres above the sea, sometime between 500 and 700 AD.
The monks fashioned for themselves six beehive cells and festooned their monastery with stone crosses. On the south peak of the island sits a hermitage and, experts suggest, around twelve monks and an abbot would have populated Skellig Michael at any one time. It was sometime between 950 AD and 1044 AD that Great Skellig became Skellig Michael, as Saint Michael’s Church was built there around that time, as a way to celebrate the consecration of the ground as it was dedicated to him.
Many of our customers have enthused about the mystical beauty of the island. Only thirteen boat licences are granted to tour operators each year, giving them permission to land on Skellig Michael, and there are no toilets, is no shelter, and no refreshments or concessions. The wind can gust and the rain can make the terrain slippery, to the point where visitors are not permitted to land in windy or stormy weather, even during the summer season. Even in pleasant weather, some visitors can still have trouble with the 120 metres of steep, stone steps.
A long time ago on an island not too far away…
And speaking of that long collection of stone steps, our customers that had already visited Skellig Michael had little difficulty in placing the distinctive staircase when it appeared at the end of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, as Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, makes the treacherous climb to the top to find Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, and hand him back his lightsaber. During filming, Mark Hamill turned to those who had ferried him to the island and asked, ‘Any advice for climbing the stairs?’ Declan O’Driscol, a local boatman, is said to have replied, ‘Just pace yourself, and don’t ever, ever look down.”
In the movie, Skellig Michael stands in for the oceanic planet of Ahch-To, the home of the ancient, first Jedi temple where Luke has been hiding in self-imposed exile. The upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII, scheduled for release in December 2017, is also said to include more scenes shot on the island, while the actual Jedi temple has been constructed at Ceann Sibeal, further up the Co. Kerry coast.
Why visit the Skelligs?
Skellig Michael’s new found fame as a Star Wars filming location has certainly increased interest in the area, with many die-hard fans now making their way over there. However, our customers who have visited these lonely rocks site many more reasons why travellers of the Wild Atlantic Way should make the effort and brave the seas. The feeling of peace and solitude is said to be unbelievable, despite the crashing surf, and George Bernard Shaw rightly described it as ‘the most fantastic and impossible rock in the world’, as well as ‘part of our dream world’. Like its little brother, Skellig Michael is home to a generous bird population. Despite the monks having to include the eggs and meat of its feathered population in their staple diet, the island now supports storm petrels, gannets, kittiwakes, fulmars, and is a breeding ground for puffins in the spring and summer months.
Back on dry land, the Skellig Experience Visitor Centre offers those unprepared or unable to make the voyage a taste of what life must have been like on Skellig Michael. Housed in an award winning, custom built, stone clad, grass roofed, green building on Valentia Island opposite Portmagee, the Visitor Centre uses models and recreations to exhibit the life and times of the early Christian monks.
Our customers also recommend a trip to the Skelligs Chocolate Factory in Ballinskelligs, which is also very nearby, a fact that was not lost on the Star Wars cast and crew that filmed at Skellig Michael. The factory’s visitor centre and shop get rave reviews by everyone who goes there and they give out free samples of their delicious chocolate. What more could you ask for?
Should you be interested in driving the Wild Atlantic Way route and visit the Skellig Islands, Europcar offers car rental service from 18+ locations to choose from. Visit Europcar for more information.
A list of tour operators can be found here