Monastic life on the Skelligs
Early Christian monks were drawn to the Skellig islands as a place of reflection and solitude. A monastic settlement was established on Skellig Michael (Sceilg Mhichíl) in the 6th century A.D. founded by St. Fionán. The settlement on Skellig Michael is referred to in numerous historical annals throughout the following centuries. The monastery can only be accessed by climbing a set of stone steps, the lower levels hewn directly from the rock itself, upper levels are a drystone construction which was the technique employed by the monks to construct the monastery buildings. Originally, 3 sets of steps were built to access the monastery from various landing points at the sea level but only the South steps survive to this day. The monastery was built on a series of constructed terraces on a sloping rocky plateau on the north-eastern summit of the island. The distinctive beehive huts provided living and communal quarters for the inhabitants and there are a number of other buildings including St. Michael’s Church, a graveyard and enclosures providing shelter for gardens. Viking attacks on the island were recorded in the Annals of Innisfallen in the 9th century A.D. The monastery was continuously occupied until the 13th century A.D. when amid climatic deterioration and changes to the structure of the Irish Church, the monks withdrew from Skellig Michael and resettled on the mainland at Ballinskelligs. The island remains a place of pilgrimage to this day with its importance recognised when it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1996.
The island was purchased by the Commissioners of Irish Lights in 1821 for £780 from the Butler family of Waterville. 2 lighthouses along with living quarters for the lighthouse-keepers and their families were built on the island and the lighthouses were first commissioned in 1826. The upper light was decommissioned in 1870 following the introduction of the lighthouse at Inishtearaght (Inis Tiaracht) while the current lighthouse was fully automated in 1987. The lighthouses and surrounding buildings continue to be owned by the Commissioners of Irish Lights which maintains and operates lighthouses around the island of Ireland while the remainder of the island is under the stewardship of the Office of Public Works.
Bird life of the Skellig Islands
Due to its importance in the migration of sea birds, Skellig Michael is designated as a Statutory Nature Reserve, a Special Protection Area and is also a proposed Natural Heritage Area. Both Skellig Michael and Little Skellig provide homes to gulls and fulmars all year round while hosting gannets, kittiwakes, puffins, razorbills, manx shearwaters, guillemots and storm petrels as part of their migration during the spring and summer months.
Seabird Arrivals and Departures Board
Images of the Skelligs
Check out our Facebook page for more images from visits to the Skelligs.
If you are planning a visit to the Skelligs, we recommend you view the OPW safety video below.