Visible from so many vantage points on the WILD ATLANTIC WAY of Ireland’s south-west coast, the Skellig Islands, Skellig Michael and Small Skellig, seem  – at first glance – to stand out from the coast like the result of some relatively recent geological or seismic event!
Calm at Sm. Skellig.But this is not the case. The Old Devonian Sandstone formation of Skellig is identical to the surrounding mountains of south Kerry and west Cork – all once part of the same great landmass, perhaps 400 million years ago!

The islands’ current call to fame is much more recent!
Skellig Michael’s UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE designation in 1996 arose from the fact that this isolated, 18-hectare, 218- metre-high crag is home to a unique, well-preserved monastery of the Early Christian era.

The founding date of this Skellig Michael monastic site is lost in the sea-mist of time, but a clue lies in the style of the architecture:

The dome-shaped, stone-built ‘beehive’ cells and rectangular oratories suggest a settlement of the 6th or 7th century.

As a pointer to Skellig’s importance in the world of that time, related manuscripts from other early monastic centres mention Skellig Michael in particular, and contain entries that indicate a continuous monastic occupation that endured there from the Early Christian period into the Middle Ages.

Today, Skellig Michael is a precious, historical gem that again commands world-wide interest. Even from a distance, visitors can note and admire the three ancient landing places, can follow visually the three stone stairways that zigzag up the steep cliffs, all leading eventually to the island’s highlight, the monastery – a village of cells, oratories, terraces and burial places set in total tranquility on a precarious, rocky, Skellig Michael cliff top, some 182 metres above the Atlantic Ocean.

The Wailing Woman stone and Small Skellig

Visitors may have many reasons for being drawn to the Skelligs, and equally may take many varied impressions there-from, but apart from experiencing the monastery’s aura, and a total perplexity at the scale of the labours involved in its construction, it is almost impossible to grasp the original act of faith in visualising and creating a major monastic home on this precipitous, isolated, rocky crag.

Anyone who visits Skellig solely in the pursuit of history and archaeology shall surely return home with an additional passion – migratory seabirds!  For these two Skellig islands offer a wildlife extravaganza that merits – and receives – much serious study…Small Skellig may be only a quarter of the size of

Skellig Michael, but in bird-life circles, it is equally world-renowned, being home to a gannet colony of some 35,000 nesting pairs!
A cruise here during the nesting season, (April to October), to feast one’s eyes on ledge upon craggy ledge occupied by these magnificent goose-sized birds would, of itself, be the thrill of a lifetime!

Conveniently, all the other Skellig denizens are readily available for inspection and photography on Skellig Michael.

Puffins are conspicuous there, drawn by the softer soil and the plant cover of Sea pink and Sea campion that facilitate their burrow-digging nesting activity.

Everyone can identify a puffin! Its breeding-season bill-colours of bright orange, red and yellow make it unmistakeable – and very loveable!

April to July is puffin period on Skellig. Thereafter they will spend the winter on the ocean, venturing even to Canadian waters in search of their off season food source – the capelin.

Storm petrels and Manx shearwaters – although nesting on Skellig Michael in tens of thousands – are much more reclusive.

Nocturnal in their movements, and almost totally black in colour the only indication of their presence by day may be a chirp/cough-like call deep within a crevice or a burrow…

Kittiwakes are Skellig’s noisy ones in white and grey – more easily identified by their non-stop “kit-i-wake, kit-i-wake” call… Many nest on ledges immediately above the landing place, but photographers will find more convenient, roadside settings – and much more noise – in nearby Cross Cove…

Guillemots and razorbills, divers in classic Black and White, are also found on the lower ledges there.

But don’t expect to see any nest; these birds don’t make one! Their eggs are laid on bare rock – but their shape, quite wide at one end and well tapered at the other, ensures that the egg cannot readily roll away – or fall over the edge…

Fulmars, in gull-like colours of grey and white are conspicuous for their mastery of air currents and up-draughts, moving but a wing-tip feather to hover, cruise the cliff face, or soar aloft where they nest at all levels. As an anti-intruder defence, fulmars can spit a foul-smelling fluid quite a distance!

But, of course, nobody intrudes anyhow. Skellig is a sanctuary in every sense.