Skellig Michael's star power

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A long time ago, before Skellig Michael welcomed Star Wars, dedicated monks made this remote island their sanctuary

Sunburst on Skellig Michael
Sunburst on Skellig Michael

It lies out there like a dream in the middle of the Atlantic, this incredible island, and star of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way. Settled by monks well over a millennium ago, Skellig Michael is a destination that sets your imagination on fire, with an against-the-odds tale of endurance, survival and architectural artistry.

If Skellig Michael seems unlikely, that’s because it is. No wonder it was chosen as a location for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

As it looms up out of the ocean, the sheer unreality of this UNESCO World Heritage Site becomes clear. Accessible only by boat, lashed by the elements, and inhabited almost solely by the numerous seabirds for which both Skellig Michael and its sister island Little Skellig are famous, it feels like a place to which man was never meant to venture. An 'incredible, impossible, mad place,' in the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw, "a part of our dream world."

A sacred place

In the 6th century, however, a small group of monks retreated here. The artistry, creativity and ingenuity of these early settlers is still there to see. Little windows in the church built here frame the view of nearby Little Skellig, the sun warms the monastic village, which seems remarkably protected from the wind, and a vast expanse of sea and sky surrounds you.

Just like the monks all those centuries ago, you're battling the elements to get here. Access to the island is seasonal (usually between summer and autumn), and weather permitting. Numbers visiting the island are limited, too, so booking in advance is highly recommended. And of course, don’t forget a hardy pair of shoes…

As you climb the 600 or so steps leading to the monastic village, the views will take your breath away. But those steps are not for the faint of heart. Anyone with a fear of heights may find the summit – some 218 metres (714 feet) high – a step too far, while the trip is also not recommended for those with reduced mobility.

But for those up to the challenge, it's a privilege to experience this stark serenity untouched by the modern world. We wonder at the fortitude of those long-ago monks who chose this place – but to live surrounded by such beauty? Suddenly Skellig Michael starts to make sense.

Dive into the Wild Atlantic Way

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