A climb to the top and tour of the monestary, plus some cool sunsets!
12.09.2016 - 13.09.2016 20 °C
In 1996 Loreena McKennitt released her album Book of Secrets. One cut from this album, “Skellig,” fascinated me with its haunting, lyrical tone. I HAD to know what a “Skellig” was!
Turns out Skellig is a 6th Century monastery on a nearly inaccessibly island off the west coast of Ireland. I was stunned and intrigued: what would possess monks to go to this inhospitable place? And what, exactly, is there? Now, this might be a better (if highly clichéd) story if I vowed then and there to go to this Skellig place. But, alas, I did not. Still, it seemed pretty interesting…
Flash forward some 7,000 sunrises (that’s about 19 years for those of you without a calculator), and we are planning our trip to Ireland. Paula knew that Skellig would be part of this trip. I have no objection! Ah, but landing trips to this site are very popular these days (remember that last scene in the recent Star Wars episode, The Force Awakens? Where an aging Mark Hammel, aka Luke Skywalker, is standing on an impossibly high cliff looking out to sea?) We knew immediately that was Skellig Michael, and I knew we would be going there (in spite of Star Wars and Mark Hammel.)
Thanks to Star Wars many other people had the same idea; getting a slot on one of the few boats making that trip was not easy. Of course, Paula is very persistent, so she did get us a couple of places in of course a very magical and prophetic way. That meant that on the selected day, we needed to be in Portmagee, the town on the Kerry Peninsula from which boats leave for Skellig Michael. In a sense, then, our whole trip to Ireland was driven by our trip to Skellig.
Portmagee is a small town, only a ten-minute walk from end to end. We stayed a couple of miles outside of town, though, right across the street (literally) from the Cliffs of Kerry. These cliffs, dropping dramatically to the ocean on the western edge of the Kerry Peninsula, are perhaps not as extreme and dramatic as the famed Cliffs of Moher, but are far (far!) less visited. And, since they were a 5-minute walk from our Airbnb lodgings, and our host had an arrangement with the owners of the cliffs, we could just go there anytime we wanted.
No question about it, sunset was the right time for the Cliffs, and the night before our big trip we walked over for the glorious show. In the clear dry weather Skellig Islands) there’s two of them) showed up sharp and clear, pyramids in the ocean eight miles offshore.
The Big Day came and was sunny and warm – always a rarity in Ireland. The seas had calmed, a bit. Still rough. The boat crew passed out plastic “sick” bags. I took one, just in case, but only one passenger actually needed their bag (and it wasn’t me, not that I felt all that good on the way out). We arrived soon enough (read: eventually), and the solid ground felt good! After a collective safety warning about steep cliffs and narrow steps we were allowed to make our way up. And up. And up…
Ah, but words are useless. Watch this video. Note there are two Skellig islands. The smaller (imaginatively called Little Skellig) has never been inhabited; it’s all rock, and is a massive and very important bird refuge. (We cruised around it on our trip back to the Portmagee harbor). It is less than a mile from Skellig Michael (Great Skellig), and shows up prominently from the monastery.
Here’s a quick video, a pan from the monastery looking out towards Little Skellig, and back to the beehive huts.
So, who were these monks, and why did they come here? I don’t actually know, an apparently, neither does anyone else. A docent at the monastery (the collection of huts seen in the video) was giving a lecture, but our boat was leaving at 2PM, and I did not want to be left behind, so I listened to very little of it. But the monastery was started in the 5th or 6th century, and may be been abandoned due to climate change: the weather got colder in the 8th century, perhaps the seas got rougher. Or it may also have been due to changes in the church structure. No one really knows. But our visit seems all the more rich for the strangeness and mystery…
Getting off the island was a bit of a challenge that day, as the seas were a bit high. But the boat captains are well experienced, and today there were no fatalities (although a wave did sweep over the pier where people were waiting to board; I think someone got wet).
Soon enough it was over, and we were heading back. Well, not quite “over;” our trip to the Skelligs included a tour around Little Skellig. This is a bare rock, less than a mile from Skellig Michael. No one has ever lived on it; there is no greenery. It is inhabited solely by birds, and is, in fact, an important international bird sanctuary. In the season, there are as many as 75,000 individuals resting, nesting, and flying about the island.
The Ride Back:
This trip is and will be one of the highlights of our entire European odyssey!