The Skelligs Rocks and Valentia Island
Twelve kilometres off the coast of the Kerry lie two natural old red Devonian sandstone pyramids, the Skellig islands, Skellig Bióg (little) and Great Skellig or Skellig Michael. The islands are the tops of submerged mountains at the westernmost point of the Kerry Mountains.
Skellig Michael is approximately 21.9 hectares in size, rising 218m (715 ft.) above the Atlantic Ocean. UNESCO added Skellig Michael to the World Heritage List in 1996 in recognition of the outstanding universal significance of its cultural landscape. It was seen as important to protect the island to the highest international standards because of its historical, architectural, artistic and archaeological interest.
UNESCO says the island “is of outstanding universal value being an exceptional, and in many respects unique example of an early religious settlement deliberately sited on a pyramidal rock in the ocean, preserved because of a remarkable environment.”
The monastery on Skellig Michael was founded by St. Finan (Fionán, in Irish), disciple of St. Brendan (484 – 577 A.D.). The medieval text Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (The Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot) tells how St Brendan searched the sea for the “Isle of the Blessed”. The monastic site at Skellig Michael rests 600 feet up the 714 foot rock on man-made terraces. It is a collection of small beehive huts (clochán), two upturned boat oratories, a souterrain(an underground chamber or cave), graveyards and a medieval church, all reached via several flights of dry stone steps, that form three routes from landings on the north, south and east. These paths contain over 2,300 steps.
Of the two islands which make up the Skelligs, Small Skellig (Skellig Beag) is the home of over 30,000 pairs of gannets, the larger island, Skellig Michael, also an important site for breeding sea-birds. The main sea bird you will see are the puffins (otherwise known as the Bottlenose, the Sea Parrot or the Clown of the Sea) who are summer visitors from March to August. The puffin is unmistakable with its black back and white under parts, and distinctive black head with large pale cheeks and a tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill. Other birds to be found on Skellig Michael include Rock Pipits, Shags, Gannets, Pigeons, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills and the native Skellig Seagull.
Eoin Walsh of Skellig Boat Trips will take you on a voyage aboard his boat, the Agnes Olibhear, to Skellig Michael. The Agnes sets sail daily at 11 am, and it takes approximately one hour and 15 minutes to reach the island. Once on the island, visitors are free to explore the island’s scenery, wildlife and archaeology for two and a half hours before departing on the return journey to Portmagee. Visitors can expect the Skellig Michael experience, (depending on weather conditions) with arrival back to port to take a total of five hours.
The Skelligs Experience centre is a must to visit, just over the bridge from Portmagee.