Skellig Michael, comprising a well preserved monastery and a remote hermitage perched on a rock in the Atlantic, is the most spectacularly situated of all the early medieval Irish monastic sties. The island’s isolation has helped to preserve and protect the monastic remains, allowing the visitor to marvel at the remarkable achievements of the monks. Skellig Michael is also an internationally renowned site for breeding seabirds with its steep rock slopes and cliffs providing nesting places for a variety of seabirds. It is this combination of cultural and natural history which imbues the island with a strong sense of beauty and spirituality.
When inscribing the site on the World Heritage List in 1996 UNESCO described Skellig Michael as a unique example of early religious settlement which illustrates, as no other site can, the extremes of Christian monasticism.
The word Sceillic means a rock, particularly a steep rock. A fifth century reference describes the flight of Duagh, King of West Munster, to the Skelligs. We have no means of knowing whether a monastery existed on the site at that time. A monastery may have been founded as early as the 6th century but the first reference to monks on the Skelligs dates to the 8th century when the death of ‘Suibhni of Scelig’ is recorded. It is referred to in the annals in the 9th & 10th centuries and its dedication to Saint Michael, the Archangel, appears to have happened sometime before 1044 when the death of ‘Aedh of Scelic-Mhichil’ is recorded. In the 13th century a general climatic deterioration resulted in colder weather and increased storms in the seas around the Skellig. This, together with changes in the structure of the Irish Church, signalled the end of the eremitical community on Skellig. The monks appear to have moved to the Augustunian Priory of Ballinskelligs on the mainland at about this time.
In 1578, following the dissolution of the monasteries, the island passed to the Butler family although the site continued to be a place of pilgrimage into the 18th century. In the early 19th century two lighthouses were erected on the rock. In the 1980’s the Office of Public Works took the monastic remains into State guardianship and has since maintained the site.
Skellig Sea Birds Arrive Depart
Gannets February October
Kittewake February September
Razorbill April Mid-August
Guillimots April Mid-August
Puffins April Mid-August
Manxshearwater April September
Storm Petrel April September
Gulls, Fulmers All year round
Visiting the Site
The seas can be quite rough & the weather unpredictable. So visitors should wear warm clothing, & carry waterproofs. Visitors should also wear appropriate footwear for the climb as the steps can be slippery, particularly in wet weather. There are no toilets on the island and travellers should be aware that the trip in its entirety can be up to 6 hours. Visitors are advised to bring food & drink with them. Visitors are asked not to leave a trace of their visit on the island & bring back any litter to the mainland where it should be disposed of responsibly.
Health & Safety
Skellig Michael is a precipitous rock and there are about 600 steps on the ascent to the monastery. Any person with health issues should consider carefully before visiting the site, as should anyone with a fear of heights. Visitors are requested to give serious consideration before deciding to bring small children to the island. If young children are brought they should be under strict supervision at all times. For safety reasons, & to minimise disturbance and damage to seabird breeding habitats, visitors must remain on recognised visitor routes while on the island. In order to protect the wildlife, dogs are prohibited from the island. Visitors should comply with all Safety Notices on the island. The Guides are the official monitors on the island and their instructions, particularly in relation to safety, must be complied with at all times.