Skellig Michael Monastery, Ireland

Skellig Michael is an inhospitable island in the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest of Ireland. A good thousand years ago, monks lived on the steep rock in absolutely spartan conditions.

Skellig Michael Island is located in the Atlantic Ocean about 12 kilometers southwest of the mainland of Ireland and is one of our top 10 sights of Ireland. The inhospitable rock rises up to 217 meters from the sea and is completely uninhabited. Nevertheless, there are always visitors on Skellig Michael. The island, which is difficult to access, is home to one of Ireland's most famous monasteries, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. We also count Skellig Michael among our 10 most worth seeing monasteries in the world.


PICTURES: Skellig Michael Monastery

"Island of Luke Skywalker"

You must not be afraid of heights, because, as in the past, the endless staircase to the monastery of Skellig Michael is not equipped with a railing, Ireland - © matthi / Shutterstock
© matthi / Shutterstock

Skellig Michael means something like "Rock of Michael" and is also called Great Skellig. (Yes, there is a Little Skellig as well, this one is closer to the coast, only 7 hectares in size and nesting site for one of the largest gannet colonies in the world with nearly 30,000 breeding pairs). As early as 588, monks landed at the foot of the 22-hectare rock and built some cells, prayer rooms, a chapel, ramparts and stone terraces in the steep slopes of the southern peak of Skellig Michael at 180m above sea level.

Star Wars fans know Skellig Michael as the setting in "Episode VII - The Force Awakens. The secluded island is the backdrop for the secret place where Luke Skywalker has retreated into exile.

History of the monastery on Skellig Michael

The monastery on Skellig Michael is located at an altitude of 180m, the cells, prayer rooms, a chapel, ramparts and the stone terraces can be reached by almost 600 steps, Ireland - © AndreaJuergensmeier/Shutterstock
© AndreaJuergensmeier/Shutterstock

The steep slopes of Skellig Michael are overgrown with sparse grass and a few herbs that date back to monastic times. Once you have made the dizzying climb to the monastery, old walls and stone paths appear, testifying to the former monastic life. After the arduous climb, one can imagine how dispensable this must have been, and even more so when one sees the spartan dwellings in which the monks lived at that time.

The small stone cells look like beehives and are accordingly called "Beehive Huts". In traditional construction, the stones were joined together without mortar, with the constant wind that blows around the summit of Skellig Michael, certainly a drafty affair. Drinking water is supplied by a spring in the rock, and the presumably 12 monks and their abbot received food from small vegetable beds on the side facing away from the wind.

Little is known about the life of the monks; according to experts, they withstood an onslaught of Vikings in 823 and moved to Ballinskelligs on the Irish mainland around 1100.

About 400 years later Skellig Michael developed into a place of pilgrimage and in the first half of the 29th century two lighthouses were installed to warn ships of the dangerous cliffs of Skellig Michael. From 1986, restoration work began on the monks' settlement and the small chapel, which is a good 1,000 years old and has been amazingly well preserved due to its remoteness.

How to get to Skellig Michael?

In 588 monks on Skellig Michael in Ireland built the first prayer rooms of the monastery and a chapel, Ireland - © upthebanner / Shutterstock
© upthebanner / Shutterstock

Every day boats bring tourists from the mainland to Skellig Michael. Most trips depart from the firsch village of Portmagge, which is opposite Valentia Island. The "Skellig Experience Center", also located there, provides information about the background of the fascinating monk island.


The monastery buildings can be reached via almost 600 steps that lead from the ancient moss-covered landing place of the monks to the top. You must not be afraid of heights, because, as in those days, the endless staircase is not equipped with a railing and between the visitors and the sea deep below there are at most a few puffins.

Tip: There are no paved roads on Skellig Michael, only stone paths, some of which lead unsecured along the steep slopes. Sturdy shoes are an absolute must and weatherproof clothing is also recommended for the constant Atlantic wind. It should also be remembered that there are absolutely no catering facilities on Skellig Michael.

Bird Paradise Little Skellig

The tiny island of Little Skellig near Skellig Michael in Ireland is home to one of the largest gannet colonies in the world - © Andreas Juergensmeier / Shutterstock
© Andreas Juergensmeier / Shutterstock

On the tour to the monastery island the boats also pass Little Skellig. The island may not be entered, but the flocks of birds are absolutely breathtaking to see even from the sea.

From a bird's eye view, you then get to see the noisy crowd from "Christ's Saddle" on the southern summit of Skellig Michael, which offers absolutely stunning panoramic views. If you strain your eyes, you might even catch a glimpse of some sea lions or dolphins plowing through the Atlantic in the depths.