Our interest in Skellig Michael predated Luke Skywalker’s arrival to this otherworldly island off the southwest coast of Ireland. It wasn’t until our ninth trip to the Emerald Isle (in September, 2016) that we even considered it. Not for lack of interest, but rather because getting to Skellig Michael involves a full day and a bit of luck.
There are a limited number of boats that make the trip to Skellig Michael. We booked two and a half months in advance with Casey’s Skellig Islands Tours (skelligislands.com). Next, we booked a room at Portmagee Heights B&B (portmageeheights.com), a five-star Tripadvisor rated B&B just up the hill from the marina (which is likely why Star Wars director J.J. Abrams had stayed there as well).
We arrived early to the marina and were greeted by Brendan Casey, captain of the Skellig Crest, assisted by his son Brendan. Brendan judged that—while the seas were a bit choppy—we could make the 8 mile, 50 minute journey to the island, reminding everyone, “there are no facilities on the island” and it may be 5 or 6 hours before we return to port (which is why we went light on the tea at the B&B).
Twelve passengers (including our friends Rick and Gail) donned life vests while Brendan the Younger secured a tarp along the left side of our small craft (that side was going to be hit by ocean spray on the way out) and briefed us on what to expect.
Brendan the Elder passed around crystallized ginger for those with queasy stomachs! Sharon supplemented these with Sea Bands and Dramamine and a determination to fix her gaze on the horizon.
Which turned out to be a bit of a challenge. To say the sea was choppy would be an understatement!
As the sea got rougher, we discovered that the side tarp didn’t keep all the water out, especially after cresting a wave and heading down the other side. It was time to put the camera away!
Finally, the waters calmed and we approached the island. The Skellig Crest bobbed up and down as we were each helped from the edge of the boat to the dock.
Before ascending the 618 steps to the summit, we were given instructions on how to climb up (and down) and what to do if we needed help. We had previously watched the spectacular Skellig Michael Safety video to prepare ourselves. We loved the bits of the video that said, “You’ll be on a remote barren rock exposed to the weather,” and, “On descent you must also be very careful not to arrive too quickly at a turn and find yourself going straight on and off the edge.” The video will either scare you off or convince you to place Skellig Michael at the top of your bucket list. For us, it was the latter!
To further aid our ascent we brought collapsible trekking poles and wore shoes with good traction. It also helps to dress in layers since the weather can change quickly.
After about 20 minutes, we reached Christ’s Saddle, a flat area between the two peaks where we paused for a snack (it is essential that you bring food and water with you).
From there, the stairs get steeper and—if you can believe it—even more spectacular!
We reached the summit and the walled monastery, built by Christian monks sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries. We like to try to imagine what it would have been like to live in various places and times, but it’s truly hard to fathom life on Skellig Michael.
For the monks, the journey to the island in a currach (Irish boat with a wooden frame over which animal hides were stretched) would have made our trip on the Skellig Crest seem like a pleasure cruise. They didn’t bring food and water like we did; they built cisterns to collect rain water and ate fish (and apparently rabbits they brought to breed).
And they built and lived in drystone beehive huts. Amazing!
After exploring the monastery, it was time to head back down. We’ve learned from other climbs that going back down is generally the tricky part. If you fall going up, you scape something; fall going down and you might break something.
Once we got below Christ’s Saddle, the wind really picked up and we used our trekking poles (and each other) for support. Shortly, we reached the yellow arrow sign, recalling the safety video instruction to not go past it:)
We made it back to the dock and boarded the Skellig Crest for the return journey.
On the way back to Portmagee Harbour we passed Little Skellig, home to thousands of northern gannets.
Back in port, we headed to The Bridge Bar at The Moorings for lunch, a drink, and the realization that we had just experienced one of the most spectacular places on this planet—or any galaxy far, far away. What an Adventure!