Skellig Michael: Ireland’s Lonely Monastery

To the untrained eye, Skellig Michael—a small, rocky island in Ireland which rises dramatically from the sea—appears to be uninviting and uninhabitable. Irish historians will happily tell you that Skellig Michael is in fact the site of one of Ireland‘s most celebrated monasteries. Beginning in the 6th century, austere Irish monks risked everything to painstakingly build a stone place of worship which was constantly lashed by thunderous waves and strong winds because they thought weathering the harsh climate proved their religious devotion.

A great deal of mystery still surrounds Skellig Michael, but historians are fairly certain that the monastery—which winds up the side of a steep mountain—was home to no more than 13 people at any given time. The monks of Skellig Michael venerated the archangel Saint Michael, who famously slayed the devil in serpent form. Skellig Michael features hundreds of stone steps, a handful of austere structures with rounded roofs, and a remote hermitage which offers total solitude near the top of one of Skellig Michael’s jagged peaks.

Skellig Michael Beehive Cells

Skellig Michael Beehive Cells with the monks graveyard in the foreground | Photo by colmocaomhanaigh/Flickr

Historians believe that Skellig Michael served as an active monastery until the 12th century, when the inhabitants of the island decided that constantly battling extreme weather wasn’t worth the trouble, Portions of the monastery—such as a small stone graveyard—are still extremely well preserved. During the summer months, visitors can charter a boat and visit the eerie stone monastery which now sits silently off the coast of County Kerry.

Looking back towards Little Skellig and the mainland

Looking back towards Little Skellig and the mainland | Photo by colmocaomhanaigh/Flickr

The moment that you begin to ascend Skellig Michael’s ancient stone steps, you will understand why the creators of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens chose Skellig Michael to serve as Luke Skywalker’s remote hideaway. There is no better home for a world-weary fictional Jedi or a real-life pious monk than a remote island surrounded by the cold, tumultuous waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

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