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Returning to Skellig Michael, an island escape

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Skellig Michael, county Kerry, Ireland
Landscape Photography : Nigel Borrington

I first visited Skellig Michael in 2012 and the following images and post were taken and created during and following this visit, since then the island has been used during the making of the latest Star Wars movie “The Force Awakens”.

While no one worried too much about this remote and sacred place being used for this purpose, I think a lot of people are very much hoping that it does not mark the start of the island being openly used in such away, here it Ireland places like this are treasured and their peace is defended strongly. The Island is also the home to some very unique and protected wildlife.

Skellig Michael : an island escape

Skellig Michael is an Island some 12 to 16 kilometres by boat from the ring of kerry, county Kerry, Ireland. It is most famous for the fact that during the 6th to the 8th Century’s a religious settlement was established here.

The Island is a world heritage site and falls under the guardianship of UNESCO, you can find the official historic details from the link on the world heritage web page here : Skellig Michael

In my last two posts I shared the boat trip to the Island and then the long but wonderful walk up to the settlement at the very top of the Island some 218 meters from sea level. Today I just want to share images of the inside area , the location that the people who lived here spent their life’s and also the location in which they are buried and there final resting place.

The images in the Gallery below are placed in the order that you view the buildings when you walk through the site, the only access is through a small passage in the outer walls.

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The very first thing that greets you are two small head stones, in a very small patch of grass. These are the graves of two young boys, it was a tradition that monks in this period would take very young boys as members to their orders. These boys where from families on the main land and once they moved here they would most likely never return to see there families. Our guide informed us that it is a possibility that both boys were killed by Viking invaders as when the remains where examined wounds were found that indicate that they were killed by the use of weapons, both boys did not pass the ages of ten or twelve. It is also thought that other graves in the pictures here, in the centre of the living area contain some adult victims of such attacks.

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A monastery may have been founded as early as the sixth century, reputedly by Saint Fionán but in 1044 rededicated to Saint Michael, the image here shows a large sculpture that is located towards the middle of the complex. It was described by our guide as being a cross but it could also be very much in the form of a human figure, with the arms to the side and a head looking over the site.

The word Skellig is defined as meaning “splinter of a stone”, and thus this rocky island was dedicated to saint Michael, there are also other Islands around Europe and maybe further away that are dedicated to this saint ( Mont Saint-Michel France, St Michael’s Mount Cornwall)

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One of the most famous features of Skellig Michael are the so called Beehive structures, there were may be six or seven of these of which six are still standing, they were the living spaces for each of the monks, this fact would indicate that a maximum of seven people lived here in the beehives at any one time, there is a structure at the very end of the settlement that is constructed completely differently, It is thought that the head of the order would have lived in this building but few fact to prove this exist.

In any case the indications are that eight people lived on Skellig Michael at anyone time during its long history.

Living with in these stone constructions looks very harsh , during the time they were occupied however they would have looked very different, in some of the pictures you can see supporting stones that stick out of the main buildings by some amount, it is thought that these stones supported a covering of thatch consisting of straw and clay, this would have been deep and was used to keep the inner stone structure warn and dry. Not all but some of the Beehives have a hole in the roof that was used to let out smoke from fires inside.

At some point I want to post about the life’s of these people, who they where and why they chose to live here, I need to read a little more however , so for the moment that’s it. Three post over the last three day, that I hope share a visit to this wonderful and mystical island.

If you get a chance I would really encourage you to visit. Its an experience of a lifetime and helps you to open your mind to European history.

I cannot help however feeling that this place holds something else other than the official history, The question as to why these monks felt the need to occupy Skellig Michael, so far of the Irish coast line, is very big !

This place feels like an escape, a refuge but from what and why ?

With such massive risk’s taken by a small group of people to construct three stone stair-ways to the top of the Island and then build the walled settlement, the question of why looms very large. These were times when the word of Christianity was first being spread across Ireland so why the need to hide away here ?

I need to do much more reading, before I understand these bigger questions 🙂 and even then maybe some of the answers have been lost !


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Skellig Michael, Six hundred steps to heaven

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Skellig Michael (unesco heratage site) , country Kerry Ireland
Irish Landscape Photography : Nigel Borrington

Skellig Michael, six hundred steps to heaven

During the summer last year I finally achieved a long ambition, to visit Skellig Michael and the Skellig islands some 16 kilometres off the county Kerry coast line, Ireland.

In yesterday post I shared the boat trip out to the Islands, today I want to share the walk up the six hundred plus stone laid steps to the very top where the world famous monastic outpost is located.

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During the boat trip one of our guides pointed out one of three stair cases to the top, if you open up this picture you will see it rising up to the settlement, there are three of these routes up that were hand built with stone cut on the island. The three of them provided landing points during different tides and weather conditions.

Landing on the Island is an experience in its own right as the swell from the sea water makes stepping off the boat great fun. As you set foot on ground again, the first stage of the walk to the top is a well laid foot path taking you to about half way around the island and about one third of the way up the 218 meters you need to climb before reaching the settlement.

As this path ends you are met by a guide, who very firmly insists you all receive a health and safety talk, sadly sometime back a visitor died while walking up the steps, the walk is very steep and if you loose your footing the drop all the way to the sea below is not broken by any obstacles. He advises to take your time, “its not a race to the top and that if you need a rest to take one.”

The walk up is hard but very pleasurable, the views as you go are stunning if a little breath taking due to the hight. One of the warnings however was to keep your eyes on your steps and not to take any images unless you had stopped in a secure location and moved aside for others to pass, even telling the people behind that you intend to stop. as you can see in the images below there are some platforms and viewing points and I did my best to only stop here.

One of the wonderful views on your way up was the hundreds of Puffins nesting here, they were due to leave any-time so its was great to still find so many of them, I got many images of them along the way.

Finally after some forty minutes you reach the last set of steps , turning through some sharp rocks you get the first view of the Settlement. This sight just takes you back, the stone wall that greets you is about four meters high from a terrace that is the only flat area on the entire Island, being used to grows vegetables in its day.

From here the only access to the inner yards and structures is through a small door in the stone wall.

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On entering you are met with the sight of the famous beehive cells of which six are still standing. The enclosed area is small and fully protected from the elements by the hight of the sea facing wall. The structure of the cells is very unique and fascinating to see. in the centre of the buildings is a small grassed area that served as a grave yard. I found this fact very interesting as it outlines the fact that the people who lived here spent their entire lives living on this Island from the moment they first arrived.

I want to post one more time on Skellig Michael, showing the full structures , living spaces and detail some of the history of this place. It is truly a fascinating place that holds some mysterys. The biggest one’s to me are : why here ?, why did these people select to live at the top of a rock over ten kilometres from the Kerry coast line, when they could have just lived on the main land?

More in the next post …

Skellig Michael, image Gallery

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