At the south-west tip of the Wild Atlantic Way lies the Skellig Ring drive. Coastal roads, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and galactic exiles sit side by side here and it's been named Best in Travel 2017 by Lonely Planet. Here’s why it’s so special…
The Skellig Ring is a thrilling coastal drive and extension of the famous Ring of Kerry on Ireland’s magnificent Wild Atlantic Way. It's as scenic as they come, winding around an unspoiled peninsula, cute towns and backed by stunning mountain and island views.
Which is where The Skelligs come in. Rising from the Atlantic 12km (8 miles) from shore, the two remote islands have been revered for centuries.
It was a group of monks seeking solitude who first colonised the chunk of rock that is Skellig Michael back in the 6th century. These hardy hermits carved the 600 or so steps that rise from the sea all the way up to the stone beehive huts at the island’s summit. So incredible was this spot that it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nothing beats landing on Skellig Michael and climbing the stone steps to reach the intriguing chambers left by the monks.
But with isolation came danger. Records tell that the island was attacked by Viking invaders who plundered people as well as treasures, though in the end it was the merciless weather that drove the monks back to the mainland.
Fishermen, tourists and pilgrims have been making this same journey for many years now – but some have been more intergalactic than others.
As Skellig Michael looms into view in the closing moments of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you know you’re witnessing an iconic Star Wars moment up there with the Death Star attack, pod race or Darth Vader’s Freudian revelation. Cast, crew and audiences alike all had to pick their jaws up off the floor upon realising that the island they were looking at was not CGI-trickery but a real place on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
With a setting like this, it’s no wonder Skellig Michael made the Star Wars location list.
Star Wars fans instantly recognised the spectacular nature of Skellig Michael – accessed by licenced boat operators departing from Portmagee's rainbow houses, near Ballinskelligs' historic ruins and Valentia Island. If you wish to walk in the footsteps of Luke and Rey, it’s advisable to book in advance as the number of visitors per day is restricted – and weather is also a variable!
But there’s more to The Skelligs than atmospheric ruins and Jedi knights. Little Skellig, Skellig Michael’s smaller sister isle, is home to a colony of 50,000 gannets, not to mention puffins, guillemots and terns. The waters, meanwhile, are visited by whales and dolphins throughout the year.
The Skelligs also happen to be one of Ireland’s best dive sites, with clear waters rich in anemones, seals and diving gannets.
Back on The Skellig Ring drive, it’s time to discover this route’s delights. Skelligs Chocolate boasts the kind of artisanal treats that couldn't be more different from the austere diet of the early monastic residents – but you can walk it off along the beautiful beach of St Finian’s Bay, a crescent-shaped beach with panoramic views.
Valentia Island's Skellig Experience brings you closer to the island's history, flora and fauna; while in Ballinskelligs you can test your language skills in this historic Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) village. Not forgetting Portmagee – base for cast and crew of the Star Wars movies – where folks at The Moorings gastropub still recall Mark Hamill coming behind the bar to pull his own pint of Guinness...
The Skellig Ring is perhaps Ireland’s most charismatically wild and emerald stretch of coastline.
Lonely Planet calls The Skellig Ring drive “unmissable”, so perhaps it’s time for you to raise your own glass to this wonderful route.