Skellig Michael, Part Two

Even though my archaeological discovery project was on Skellig Michael, I have so much more to share than I could fit in the project. I also want to add my personal side to the site, which I did not think would be appropriate for a formal project. For those of you that did not read my project but are reading this, Skellig Michael is the site of an early Christian monastery off the southwest coast of Ireland. It was built between the 6th and 8th centuries AD.

The main reason I wanted to write my blog on this is because of the personal experiences I had that could not be shared in the project. In order to paint a picture of exactly what Skellig Michael is like, it is best to start from the beginning. In order to access the island, a small boat must be taken through the Atlantic ocean. At this point of my journey, I was already terrified and I hadn’t even started yet. The ocean waves were higher than the boat, and water constantly splashed over the sides of the boat. We were all instructed to wear heavy protective water proof clothing, because otherwise we would get soaking wet. As we ventured farther and farther out into the ocean, the first of the two islands came closer into view. This island is know as Little Skellig. Little Skellig is completely uninhabitable, except for the massive number of birds and seals that reside there. These islands make an important stopping point for birds as they travel around the ocean. As we rounded the first island, the second came into view. Great Skellig (Skellig Michael) is much taller than little Skellig, and also houses the monastery. The boat stops on the side of a massive mountain and you must wait until the tide brings the boat up to the dock before you can even get off. As soon as this dangerous feat is accomplished, the next dangerous feat is right at your feet. After a short hike around the island, the set of stairs appears in front of you. These stairs were constructed about 1,200 years ago, and are made completely of shaped stone. After years of erosion, the stairs have become brittle and extremely dangerous, especially since they rise 600 feet on the side of a small mountain. The stairs lead up to the northeast side of the island, to where the main monastery is located. The walk up the steps has resulted in numerous deaths in modern times. The wind on the island is extreme, as it is in the middle of the ocean high in the air. With the steps being small, slick, and brittle, the climb truly is treacherous. However, what waits at the top is worth any amount of danger.

The monastery is absolutely amazing both physically and spiritually. The buildings are almost all beehive shaped, with the exception of two oratories and St. Michael’s Church. After being mostly abandoned for hundreds of years, the condition they are in today is incredible. Not only is the site physically impressive, but spiritually as well. Knowing that these monks devoted their lives to solitude on a remote island in order to be closer to God can have a lot of meaning to anyone, religious or not. Also important to the are the crosses. Made out of stone, the island contains over ninety carved crosses. A vast majority are spread around the monastery itself, with some of the others in various other places around the island. The monastery of Skellig Michael is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, however unlike most other sites the number of tourists is fairly low. The level of danger accessing the site keeps people away, as well as the location and the cost to travel there. However, if anyone has the opportunity to travel to southwest Ireland, I cannot recommend highly enough Skellig Michael. It is an experience never forgotten.