Skellig Michael

30 Oct

When I first heard about Skellig Michael in my Irish Life and Cultures class, I knew it was a place I had to visit. Our teacher described Skellig Michael as a remote ancient monastic settlement on top of an uninhabitable island off the west coast of Ireland. The whole thing sounded absolutely amazing. I approached two other students in the class to see if they would be interested in making a trip to the site. The two students I asked were just as intrigued as I was, and all we had to do was plan the excursion. After some research and multiple calls to boat operators in Portmagee, we find out that a trip to Skellig Michael wouldn’t be as easy as we initially thought. There were two major issues with the trip. Since the North Atlantic is so rough, there is only a short span of the year when boats can make trips to the island. Even during the season, boats only go out on select days when the ocean is calm. We found out that the season was about to end The second issue we encountered was that there is no easy way to get from Dublin to Portmagee. The trip would be expensive and there was no guarantee that the boats would go out even if we made it to Portmagee. Upon hearing Wednesday evening that boats were likely to go out the next day, we made a last minute decision to make the journey.

We boarded a train from Dublin to Cork, and then took a train from Cork to Killarney. We decided to try to find a place to stay in Killarney because it was the last major city before Portmagee. We ended up finding a hostel near the city center of Killarney. Walking through the streets you could hear live music everywhere. After we found our room we decided to go check out some of the old Irish pubs. We had a great experience in one of these pubs drinking, laughing, and talking to locals all the while listening to music. We eventually called it a night knowing we had to get up very early the next day.

I woke up the next morning with a huge amount of anticipation. We had to call the boat companies to see if they were taking the boats out that day. When I got the news that the boats were a go, I really couldn’t believe that we were actually headed to the island. We took a taxi from Killarney to Portmagee, arriving just in time to have some breakfast at the only restaurant in town. We boarded the tiny skipper and embarked on the 45-minute ride to the island. As we flew across the water I couldn’t believe the size of the swells even on a calm day. Dolphins chased the boat, jumping from one side of the wake to the other. As we approached the island I couldn’t believe the sheer size of the cliffs. I could just make out part of the stone staircase circling the island winding towards the top. We made our way up more than 600 steps to the ancient monastic settlements at the top. There were three main circular stone huts next to a small church and graveyard. The church was dedicated to St Michael somewhere between 950 and 1050 when it was customary to build a new church to celebrate a dedication. After walking around the site, we ventured to the very top of the island. The day was absolutely gorgeous and it was perfectly clear. I could see the ocean stretching for miles all around me and I could just make out the Irish mainland in the distance. Standing up there I felt utterly at peace. I sat down to look over the ocean, breathing in the salty air. I could see why the monks occupied Skellig. As cheesy as it sounds, when I sat up there I felt like I was one with the world. All of my other worries and thoughts faded away and I was able to just breath. While I could see the monk’s benefit of living on Skellig, I am still confused as to how the monks pulled it off logistically. I can’t imagine how they travelled to the island or survived there for any length of time. The sea surrounding Skellig is rough and the island is exposed to the weather. There is no real source of food on the island and there is only one small field where any livestock could have survived. After two hours on the island we headed back down the step to board the boat back to the mainland.

When we got back to Portmagee, we caught a taxi that would take us back to Killarney. On the ride home I sat thinking about the events of earlier that day. I thought about explaining the experience to my friends back home. I smiled to myself knowing I had just done something truly unique.

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