Visitors guide to the Skellig Rocks – Little Skellig and Great Skellig

Celtic Cross on Skellig Michael, ©amerune/Flickr

Celtic Cross on Skellig Michael, ©amerune/Flickr

The Great Skellig, also known as Skellig Michael is a set of rocks which tower on the Atlantic Ocean about 12 kilometers from Kerry County. This destination has been chosen by a group of ascetic monks as a dwelling location. They came here between the 6th and the 8th centuries in order to pursuit a closer relationship with God.

Here they have built a monastery which stands even today and can be visited. In the 13th century the monks have moved back to the mainland but kept the monastery on the island as a pilgrimage location. Later, in the 19th century there were built two lighthouses on the island which played important role in the maritime history of Ireland. Since 1996 Skellig Michael has been enlisted on the list of World Heritage sites and it is considered as an outstanding universal value.

Early history of the Skelligs

The name itself, Skellig, comes from the word Sceillic which is can be translated as steep rock. The first reference that is connected to this location is mentioned in a legend about the son of Milesius, called Ir, who drowned during landing and now the Skelligs are his burial place. There is also another mention about the Skelligs in a text from the 8-9th century which speaks about a combat between two kings of which one, Duagh has fled to these islands.

Skellig Michael, beehive cells and Small Skellig, ©Arian Zwegers/Flickr

Skellig Michael, beehive cells and Small Skellig, ©Arian Zwegers/Flickr

About the monks

Supposedly the monastery on the island has been constructed during the early period of the 6th century. It is said that the building was initially found by Saint Fionán but the first time when history speaks about monks on the Skelligs can be dated back to the 8th century. In some chronicles from the 9th and 10th century there is a reference to Saint Michael, the Archangel which is somehow connected to the Aedh of Scelic-Mhichíl’s death. Presumably the building was a dedication to Saint Michael.

Monastery on Skellig Michael, ©amerune/Flickr

Monastery on Skellig Michael, ©amerune/Flickr

In the second half of the 12th century Giraldus Cambernsis also mentions Saint Michael’s church and a miraculous supply of communal wine. During the 13th century due to a climatic change the monks have left Skellig Michael and moved to the mainland, to Ballinskelligs. In the first half of the 14th century the Prior of the Augstinian Abbey located in Ballanskelligs is mentioned as Prior de Rupe Michaelis which proves or rather implies that although the monks were no longer living in the monastery of Skellig Michael, the island was still played an important part.

Celtic Cross on Skellig Michael, ©amerune/Flickr

Celtic Cross on Skellig Michael, ©amerune/Flickr

 

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