Take a minute and picture this. You are on a tiny fishing boat with a 60+ year old Irish man you can barely understand. They give you and the rest of the patrons on the boat life vests and bright yellow waterproof pants and told us to prepare for a bumpy and wet ride. You then proceed to go on a 45 minute ride in what seems to be a scene from the Deadliest Catch or maybe Moby Dick. Waves seemed to be rising above the boat that could flip us at any moment (not to be super dramatic.) You then head to this mysterious island far in the fog… Sounds like the start to a horror film right? Well you’ll be delighted to hear that this is truly the atmosphere you experience when you make the voyage to Skellig Island. I have grown up around water and boats and would consider myself pretty savvy with the sea legs, however, this time it was slightly different.
For starters to make the initial trip to Skellig Michael is always a hit or miss. If you don’t know already this is the island where they filmed the Luke Skywalker scenes in the latest Star Wars movie, however, it holds the door open far more to the past than one might think. This tiny, jagged, unwelcoming island is home to an ancient monastery. More on that later. Even before Star Wars brought attention to this island, it acted as a pilgrimage for some. You would cross treacherous waters unaware whether or not you would be able to land. The way the island is structured depending on the waves and the tide it could be too dangerous to land (there have been deaths just getting off the boats)! Now that it has become a popular bullet point on many bucket lists, it has become incredibly regulated in terms of how many people are allowed to visit the island per day or if you can go at all. When my family went down for journey the island hadn’t permitted visitors for four days. You truly get to count yourself lucky if you make it.
When we woke up the day we were supposed to head to the island things were looking bright and positive to head across the open sea. As we headed to the front desk they said all systems were a go and we would meet our guide and boat captain by the docks. FANTASTIC! My family was stoked for the opportunity to see this amazing piece of history. When the time came, however, we were told there had been a change of plans. Due to the changes in the winds the island was unapproachable. This just goes to show how temperamental the weather can be and how truly amazing it is if you get a chance to go to the island. They were hoping conditions would improve later in the day so we kept our fingers crossed. We were manifesting the good conditions to send us to the island. After an hour all systems were a go! We were actually going to the island. We were going to walk the same steps that had been walked by monks for the last 15 centuries. As we headed to the boat that was going to take us on our little journey is seemed more equipped for carrying fish than humans, but alas, that seemed to be as much of the adventure. So like I said before, we put on our deadliest catch outfits and headed out onto the sea.
Though I am a self proclaimed wannabe mermaid and worshiper of the sea the waves our tiny boat was going against were insane. We were sprayed with sea waters and thrown around like little rag dolls. The bleakness of my surroundings seemed to be ripped from the pages of an old Hemingway novel. Most of us on the boat were feeling a bit queezy. Luckily no one let it get the best of them because soon out of the fog appeared the gorgeous and daunting island. Even looking at it there was an aura of magic and mystery. I could tell it was a special place. Since there was no proper dock we kind of just flung ourselves from the boat to the makeshift cement landing.
There was a spirit to this place. Though I was surrounded by people there was still a feeling of solitude. After we were greeted by some people who worked on the island and the gave us the “safety” talk we began to make our way up the unpredictable island. When I heard there were stairs that lead up to the ancient monastery I had assumed they had been safe and regulated. Man was I wrong. Firstly, the stairs are the same ones the monks made thousands of years ago. I was stunned they were still there. Since we were bombarded by the lovely Irish mist, the worn stone stairs were very slick. At times I would have to cling to the side of the mountain just to stabilize myself. For someone who was afraid of heights and is very clumsy this definitely helped me get over it. I think my favorite part of the little hike up was when both sides of the narrow stairs were just cliffs. A complete drop down that if you slipped either way you fell to your death. It was just SO FANTASTIC. **hint the major sarcasm** Alex and I may have bear crawled the entire way up.
After one terrifying stretch of stairs… like i was lowkey getting nervous… the beehive huts were in my line of vision. I was stunned. These buildings so out of place with the surroundings held so much history. Built by monks who thought they were at the end of the civilized world at the time, braved the sea and this INSANE island to be in solitude with their god. They created this community that would still be visible and felt after all these years. There is truly a sense of calm when walking around these ancient buildings. Buildings that look untouched despite the harsh elements they faced throughout the years. They withstood viking attacks, terrible Irish weather, and complete solitude once making it to the island. It is a magical place. We were able to spend around 25 minutes at the top of the island. We learned the history of the monastery and the monks. We learned how truly amazing it was that they created this place on an island that was truly unfriendly to humans. We then had to take the walk back down slow and very steady. Going down the slick stairs was mighty dangerous. As we got back into the tiny little fishing boat and headed back to the mainland, the island disappeared as quickly as it had appeared only a few hours earlier.
We rode away realizing we were lucky to experience this magic. A place whose history far dates the Star Wars fame. A place that never wanted to be run over by eager tourists. A place that silently screams it dream for solitude. I am so thankful this place opened up for me and my family. It is a memory we won’t soon forget.