Star Wars and Monks - Skellig Michael in Ireland
The islands are enticing, set off in the distance. Two lumps of rock sit in the Atlantic. The last stop before America and Canada thousands of miles away. As is the way with divers, these rocks hold a special attraction. Whatever is above the surface continues below. Sheer walls of rock, coated in life. Some of the most amazing diving in the world.
As we head out across the water, Bolus Head in county Kerry recedes into the mist and the islands become clear. Their sheer height dwarfing our small boat after the exhausting and nausea inducing crossing. 13km has never felt so far. The sea birds that call this cliff face their home roll around in the sky. Diving into the crystal clear waters, bubbles the only display of their entry into the depths below.
The boat moors on the jetty. A tricky manoeuvre with sea swell and shallow waters. Departure from the boat is rapid before it pulls away into deeper water and awaits our return. A chance to explore this small island between dives.
The steps to the cells are steep. 600 uneven and rugged steps climb the side of this small island, snaking over boulders and around hillocks. Ancient moments told out with each step. Looking out over the water Little Skellig is seen nearby and then beyond in the distance is the coast of Kerry.
218m above the sea is the summit of this rocky and precipitous outcrop. Just below us are the intact remains of the hermits cells and the monastery that was established here in the 6th Century. A remote and wild outpost of the Christian world, this island was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. There is also the lighthouse, tucked at the base of the cliffs providing protection on this wild coastline.
All the while, sea birds tumble and fall, their daily lives lived out in this hostile environment. So hostile that in 2015 it was the filming location for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. For an island steeped in stories and legends from the 6th Century it is ironic that modern day stories and legends and a whole new form of pilgrims are now brought to this remote rock in the Atlantic Ocean.
Tips for Visiting Skellig Michael
A trip to this island is not easy and you do need to have a good stomach. Even on 'calm' days the crossing is hard going. Despite having fairly good sea legs getting to Skellig Michael was an endurance test for me.
The crossings are cancelled if the weather conditions are not good so you do need to be flexible on your dates. The best company are SeaQuest who leave from Portmagee. This is a small village, but there is enough to fill a few days if the weather is not ideal for a crossing.
The tours do get booked up so always book well in advance if you are in the area for a small period of time or have very specific dates. Only 15 boats are licensed to make the trip and land on the island so places are limited.
You will need to bring everything with you. There are no shops (or anything) on the island. Packed lunch (even if you don't want to eat!!!) and plenty of water will make the day far more enjoyable.
Once on the island the path is rugged. Make sure you have suitable walking boots and waterproofs as the weather can change in a matter of minutes.
These islands are not good if you suffer from a fear of heights or edges. The path is on the edge, there is no other way to describe it.
Photography Ideas at Skellig Michael
Skellig Michael is the perfect location for photography. The landscape is stunning, although photography from the boat can be hard work if there is a large swell. The best views of Skellig Michael and Little Skellig are from the mainland, looking out to sea. The sun sets to the west so these two islands are perfectly placed.
The island is great for getting shots of the scenes from the Star Wars movies. Just take care with edges when moving around and taking photographs. This will need some research before you go, but planning will ensure your short stay on the island is worthwhile.
The seabirds that make this island their home are also perfect subjects for photography. Manx shearwaters, storm petrels, puffins and guillemots make this their home along with a range of other sea birds. You may also be luck and see dolphins or whales on the crossing which make for perfect photography opportunities.