Go west. Far, far west. Go to the Skellig Islands.
Have you ever wanted to visit a place so remote that most of the time only gannets, puffins and seals live there? A place off the beaten track, with no hotels or bars, or even roads or houses for that matter?
About the Skellig Islands
The Skellig Islands lie about 8 miles (12km) off the coast of County Kerry in the far west of Ireland. They can only be reached by boat trips, which run regularly, weather permitting. There are two islands. The large of the two is known as Great Skellig, or sometimes Skellig Michael. This is the point of landing for the boat trips. The smaller island, known as Little Skellig, is closed to the public, although the boat trips stops nearby allowing visitors to see the abundant wildlife on the island from a safe distance.
The islands rise dramatically from the Atlantic Ocean. Skellig Michael stands an imprssive 230 metres or so above the sea level. Both islands are famous for the thriving bird and sea life populations. For bird watchers, you’ll find Atlantic Puffins in their 1000s, but also Northern Gannets, Guillemots, Razorbills and even Peregrine Falcons. For lovers of sea life, you might catch sight of one of the many Grey Seals, or even a dolphin, Basking Shark, Minke Whale, Beaked Whale or Leatherback Turtles.
Both of the Skellig Islands have a history of being havens for persecuted Catholics. On Skellig Michael there is an an early Christian monastery, dating back to around 600AD, known as St. Fionan’s monastery. You can still see some of the monk’s houses or “cells” today. They are a distinctive “beehive” shape, made of local stone, and built in such a clever way as to be round on the outside and rectangular on the inside, and completely water proof. The monastery, monk’s cells and abundant wildlife made Great Skellig a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Around the Area
Valentia Island is another island in the area, although closer to the mainland and actually connected by a bridge – the Maurice O’Neill Memorial bridge at Portmagee, as well as by car ferry from Reenard Point to Knightstown, the main village on the island. As you can see from the image below, Valentia Island also offers some stunning scenery. But it also offers a unique history, since it was the location on the eastern side of the Atlantic of the first commercial transatlantic telegraph cable.
Ring of Kerry
Both the the Skellig Islands and Valentina Island are stops on the popular Ring of Kerry route. This is a tourist route around some of the highlights of the county, and is around 180km long, so fairly easy to do as a day trip. Other highlights include Staigue stone fort, Muckross House, Ross Castle, Ogham Stones and Muckross Abbey. See this article.
Getting to The Skellig Islands
There is a daily boat trip to Great Skellig, leaving around 10am from Portmagee, although this may depend on the weather. It takes around 45 minutes to reach the island, but you get to spend an enjoyable and peaceful 2 or so hours there, plus get to stop by at Little Skellig to watch the bird and wild life there (staying on the boat – members of the public aren’t allowed onto the smaller island). Book in advance and be prepared for all types of weather, plus take some food and drink. In fact, once you have climbed the steep slopes of Great Skellig, you will appreciate something nice to eat and drink to accompany the stunning views. You should be back in Portmagee by around 3pm, with the rest of the day still to enjoy, perhaps in one of Kerry’s many fine pubs.