Skellig Michael: Wikis

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Skellig Michael*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Monastery of Skellig Michael
State Party Ireland
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, iv
Reference 757
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1996  (20th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Skellig Michael (from Sceilig Mhichíl in the Irish language, meaning Michael's rock), also known as Great Skellig, is a steep rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean about 9 miles (15 kilometres) from the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. It is the larger of the two Skellig Islands. After probably being founded in the 7th century, for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe's better known but least accessible monasteries.

Since the extreme remoteness of Skellig Michael has until recently discouraged visitors, the site is exceptionally well preserved. The very spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrate the ascetic lifestyle practiced by early Irish Christians. The monks lived in stone 'beehive' huts (clochans), perched above nearly vertical cliff walls.

Contents

Features

This terraced monastic site was originally approached by three flights of vertiginous steps (leading from different landing places) which met at Christ's Valley, the saddle between the peaks. The modern path to the lighthouse meets the southern flight of steps. The monastery comprises six intact clocháns, two oratories, 31 early grave slabs, a monolithic cross and the 13th century church of St Michael. The dry-stone walls of the clocháns are almost 2m thick, square in plan and with circular roofs. Most have wall recesses but no windows. The two largest have projecting corbels inside and out used for securing thatch or stopping sods from slipping. The oratories have windows and the smaller one is built on an artificial platform. To the west of the steps leading up to the monastic buildings are two cross-slabs with a blocked souterrain between them. In the massive wall south of the souterrain is a, probably mediaeval, latrine over a deep cleft in the rock. The outer and inner walls are continuous and form a narrow oval enclosure, in the north-east part of which is the Monk's Garden.[1]

Natural Features and Landmarks

Christ's Valley: Christ’s Valley, alternatively known as Christ’s Saddle, is a U-shaped depression rising 130 meters above sea level that bisects the Skellig. The distinctive saddle was formed over 200 millions years of erosion and faulting activity following the great Armorican upheaval that created the mountain range of Kerry to which the Skellig belongs. The Valley terminates in two peaks, the Southwestern peak which rises 218 meters above sea-level, and the Northwestern peak with an elevation of approximately 185 meters. The Northwestern peak is home to the ruins of the eremitic monastic community that once lived there while the remains of an Hermitage connect to the monastery is still present on the summit of the Southwestern peak.

The Needles Eye: The Needles Eye is a narrow rock chimney created by a massive fissure that cleaves the principle body of the Southwestern Peak from a protruding horizontal overhang. The rock chimney forms a “gate” marking the ascent of the Southwestern Peak of the Skellig.[2] The entrance of the chimney is located 5 meters above the roughly cut path that leads to it and is navigable only with the aid of deeply gauged toe-holds and the use of a dry-stone traverse. The traverse is 4 meters by 1 meter and exists to form a level point of access into the chimney. The chimney itself is approximately 7 meters high and the ascent is facilitated by the use of stone supports that are spaced roughly a meter apart and which transition into well-defined steps carved into the central rock formation of the chimney.[3]

The Spit: The spit is a narrow ridge approximately 3 meters long and tapering to a minimum width of .2 meters located atop the summit of the Southwestern peak of the Skellig. The ridge is situated 2 meters below the installation site of a modern iron weathervane and is the location of a large quasi-miraculous stone slab that serves as a popular pilgrimage destination. Traversing the narrow Spit and kissing the slab is the ultimate completion of a pilgrimage to the Skellig.[4] The stone slab 1 meter high and 7.6 centimeters thick is often erroneously referred to as a Celtic Cross. The slab is unadorned except for a small, barely perceptible cross that was etched into the stone by a pilgrim.[5] The true origins of slab remain unknown, although speculation posits it both as the devotional item of an early hermit who left the monastery at the Northeastern end of the Skellig to pursue a more vigorous life of isolation, and as a monument erected by early pilgrims in place of a cross or shrine.[6] The slab mysterious disappeared sometime after 1977, probably falling loose from its base which is still visible today.

The Hermitage The Hermitage, although a product of the monastic community on the Northeastern peak of the Skellig, is distinct from the eremitic monastery proper. It is an example of micro-isolation, a retreat of an extreme short from the already secluded monastery, for where else was there to go on an already isolated island but “an even higher and less accessible spot”? [7] Located on the Southwestern peak of the Skellig, the Hermitage is composed of three man-made terraces interconnected by a set of steep narrow steps. The first terrace is believed to have functioned as a garden, while the second terrace contains the foundations of a dry-stone, rectangular oratory contemporary to those found in the monastery on the opposite end of the Skellig. The second terrace also contains a leacht, a small rectangular structure of un-mortared stones that is believed to have functioned either as a burial place, or a shrine to the translated relics of a saint, and even possibly as an altar.[8] The third outer terrace is enigmatic as to its usage or role in facilitating the spiritual or pragmatic experience of the resident hermit.[9] The site contains the presumptive foundations of an stone edifice; however, the difficult climate of the southwestern summit and the incongruity of their construction in comparison to the clochán found at the monastery, reject their designation as a domicile, although they may allude to some type of shelter.[10]

History

Skellig Michael
An Irish commemorative coin celebrating the UNESCO Heritage Site of Skellig Michael.

The monastery on Skellig Michael survived a number of Viking raids in the 9th century, notably in 823, was later significantly expanded, with a new chapel built around the start of the second millennium. The community at Skellig Michael was apparently never large - probably about 12 monks and an abbot. Some time in the 12th century the monks abandoned the Skellig and moved to the monastery of Augustinian Canons Regular at Ballinskelligs on the mainland.

Starting in the 16th century, Skellig Michael became a popular destination for annual pilgrimages, but had no permanent residents. In the 19th century two lighthouses were built and the Great Skellig was again inhabited, this time by a changing rota of lighthouse keepers. The second lighthouse still operates, though it was largely rebuilt during the 1960s and has been automated since the 1980s. In 1986 some restoration work was done and an official tourist bureau associated with the island was established.[11] However restrictions have recently been imposed on tourist access, in the belief that tourist numbers (in particular use of the ancient stone steps up the rock) were causing a worrying degree of damage to the site. Alternative methods that would preserve the site while allowing public access are being considered.

On Monday, 30 July, 2007, long-distance swimmer Robert Bohane from Ballinhassig in County Cork became the first recorded person to ever swim from Skellig Michael to the mainland.[12] The swim began at 09:07 and ended 6 hours and 29 minutes later when Robert landed at the slip in Portmagee to approximately 200 family, friends and supporters. The swim was 11.6 miles (18.7 kms) in length.

Nature reserve

Christ's Saddle pathway

Along with its smaller neighbour, Little Skellig, Great Skellig is an important nature reserve. Between them the Skelligs hold nationally important populations of a number of seabirds, including Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Razorbill, Common Guillemot and Atlantic Puffin. Storm Petrels and Manx Shearwaters also nest in large numbers.

Conservation controversy

At the 2008 meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the Office of Public Works, the Irish agency that manages Skellig Michael, came under criticism for its policies concerning the reconstruction (anastylosis) of ruins there. Critics argued that insufficient scholarly investigation and documentation of the sites had been carried out prior to reconstruction, and that insufficient effort was made to distinguish rebuilt contemporary elements from the historic fabric.[13]

See also

References

  1. ^ Weir, A (1980). Early Ireland. A Field Guide. Belfast: Blackstaff Press. p. 164. 
  2. ^ Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke (1990). The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 29-31. 
  3. ^ Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke (1990). The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 29-31. 
  4. ^ Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke (1990). The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 45-46. 
  5. ^ Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke (1990). The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 45-46. 
  6. ^ Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke (1990). The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 45-46. 
  7. ^ Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke (1990). The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 72. 
  8. ^ Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke (1990). The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 42-45. 
  9. ^ Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke (1990). The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 42-45. 
  10. ^ Horn, Walter, Jenny White Marshall, and Grellan D. Rourke (1990). The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 42-45. 
  11. ^ 2006 comment on restoration
  12. ^ Reference to Robert being the first to complete the swim.
  13. ^ "An Irish Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery," The Economist, 10 September 2009, http://www.economist.com/books/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14401046, accessed 14 November, 2009

External links

Coordinates: 51°46′N 10°32′W / 51.767°N 10.533°W / 51.767; -10.533

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Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Skellig Michael Monastery with Small Skellig and Co. Kerry in background
Skellig Michael Monastery with Small Skellig and Co. Kerry in background

Skellig Michael is in Ireland off the coast County Kerry.

It is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Understand

Skellig Michael is home to a 6th Century monastic settlement. This complex is perched on the steep sides of the larger of the two Skellig Islands, some 12 km off the coast of south-west Ireland. It illustrates the very spartan existence of the first Irish Christians. Since the extreme remoteness of Skellig Michael has until recently discouraged visitors, the site is exceptionally well preserved.

History

The monastery on Skellig Michael survived a number of Viking raids in the 9th century, notably in 823, was later significantly expanded, with a new chapel built around the start of the second millennium. The community at Skellig Michael was apparently never large - probably about 12 monks and an abbot. Some time in the 12th century the monks abandoned the Skellig and moved to the Augustinian Monastery at Ballinskelligs on the mainland.

Starting in the 1500s, Skellig Michael became a popular destination for annual pilgrimages, but had no permanent residents. In the 19th century two lighthouses were built and the Great Skellig was again inhabited, this time by a changing rota of lighthouse keepers. The second lighthouse still operates, though it was largely rebuilt during the 1960s and has been automated since the 1980s. In 1986 some restoration work was done and an official tourist bureau associated with the island was established. However restrictions have recently been imposed on tourist access, in the belief that tourist numbers (in particular use of the ancient stone steps up the rock) were causing a worrying degree of damage to the site. Alternative methods that would preserve the site while allowing public access are being considered. In 1996 it was made into a World Heritage Site

Landscape

There are two Skellig Islands off the Coast of Co. Kerry. Along with its smaller neighbour, Little Skellig, Great Skellig is an important nature reserve. Between them the Skelligs hold nationally important populations of a number of seabirds, including gannet, fulmar, kittiwake, razorbill, common guillemot, and Atlantic puffin. Storm petrels and Manx shearwaters also nest in large numbers.

Flora and fauna

Keep an eye out on Skellig Michael, for the Puffins that inhabit the island and get quite close.

Climate

Due to the winter weather boats sail out in the summer season roughly (April-September)

Skellig Michael
Skellig Michael

You will have to get a boat out to the island, but visitor numbers are limited so only a few operators run out there. Here is a list of the main Boat operators.

  • Casey's Skelligs Boat Tours, Portmagee, 066-9472437 (), [1]. The tour is on board a fast boat taking approx 45 minutes to do the 8 mile journey to the Islands  edit
  • Lavelles Passenger Boat Services, Valentia Island, 066-9476124 (), [2]. Mr Lavelle is a local historian of the islands and provides very informative trips to the island  edit
  • Boat Operator, Valentia Island, 066-9476142.  edit

Boats normally leave at around 10-10:30AM. The boat trip out last about 45 minutes most tours give you 2-3 hours on the island. The return journey is again 45 minutes returning to harbour at around 3-4PM.

The closest town that is fully accessible by public transport is Caherciveen, some of the tour guides may be able to pick you up and transport you to Portmagee as part of the tour price.

Fees/Permits

Boat trips are pretty much a standard rate of €40 in the off-peak season and €45 in the summer months.

There are no Banking Facilities in Portmagee so you will need the money before you arrive.

Map of Skellig Michael
Map of Skellig Michael

There are no vehicles on the Island.

From the landing bay there is a small road that runs to the start of the stairs that lead up to the monastery. The Stairs are in a reasonable condition, however they are old and there are no safety ropes, whilst not being actively dangerous they do require some care, a dose of courage and some decent shoes.

The South Steps are the main route to the summit. They run up from the Heliport to ‘Christ’s Saddle’ a relatively flat piece of land between the two peaks of the Island. The monastery is on the Eastern peak and is an easy walk from ‘Christ’s Saddle’. The Hermitage is located on the South Peak, It is highly inadvisable to attempt to cross to the South Peak, the paths are not stable and the Hermitage itself is only accessible with climbing equipment.

  • The Monastery Ruins at the peak of the Island are one of the highlights of any trip to Ireland.
  • The spectacular view of the South Peak from Christ's Saddle.
  • The huge amount of sea birds, especially on Small Skellig
  • Seals and if you are lucky Dolphins in the waters on the way to the islands
  • Relax with a pint in the Harbour side pubs to help take in the great experience

Do

Visit The Skellig Experience [8] on Valentia Island, directly opposite Portmagee, to get a good overview of the history of the monastery.

Buy

Shops at the ports sell many traditional Irish souvenirs.

Skellig Chocolates [9] are a local company that make high quality and thoroughly recommended chocolates.

Eat

There are no catering facilities on the Island.

Bringing a picnic is a good idea however it is requested that this be eaten away from the remains of the monastery, to help stop seabirds scavenging among the ruins. The base of the steps near the Heliport is perhaps the best place to have a picnic, as it is well sheltered.

Drink

There are pubs in Portmagee, which are the ideal place to have a drink once you return. The Bridge Bar and Fisherman’s Bar both lookout over the harbour, both serve food.

Sleep

It is not possible to stay on Skellig Michael, Accommodation is available at the Harbours.

Portmagee

  • Portmagee Hostel, Portmagee, Ring of Kerry, County Kerry, Ireland, +353 (0)66 948 0018 (), [10]. Good value accommodation in Portmaggee near the main harbour for trips to the islands Dorm €11-€14.50, Private Room from €13.50-€24 pp.  edit
  • The Moorings, Portmagee, Co. Kerry, 353 66 9477108 (), [11]. Run by the same people that own the Bridge Bar and comes with a good recommendation €40-€65 p.p.p.n..  edit

Ballinskelligs

  • Skellig Hostel, Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry, 066 (), [12]. Excellent value accommodation in brand new building, The drive over the headland to Portmagee offers astounding views of the coastline Vallentia Island and out to the Skelligs themselves, worth driving out for the view alone. Dorm €11-€14.50, Private Room from €13.50-€24 pp.  edit
  • The Old Cable House Bed and Breakfast, Old Telegraph Cable Station Waterville Ring of Kerry (Skellig Ring Drive to Waterville), 0035369474233, [13]. checkin: 3PM-6PM; checkout: 11AM. Ring of Kerry Ireland the Old Cable Historic House Stay at our B&B for the unique lodging alternative to large hotels, experience the personal touch “ That incomparable Irish mist , we reveal the Ireland you had only dreamed of colourful, unstuffy, and infectiously attractive mix of styles and people. Polished floors, robust Irish cooking, medicinal whiskeys, fly-fishing and storytelling characters, Islands, mountains, and goats who own the road, boat trips and magical wishing wells, just do absolutely nothing , breathe in the impossible beauty” * Milestone Heritage Site. This unique residence in Waterville Village traces its origins to the first transatlantic telegraph cable layed from Ireland/Europe to USA in 1866. Retaining all its original features, the Old Cable House offers bright spacious rooms of character. 35 euro pp.  edit

Stay safe

Don’t forget that this is a ‘wilderness outing’ to an uninhabited Atlantic Ocean island where there are no modern facilities. Bring food, water, and sensible clothes. The boat crossing can be choppy and there are no safety rails on the climb at Skellig Michael so tread carefully and responsibly.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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