Well, it’s a twofer today…Neil was just too tuckered out last night after the Skellig Michael boat trip to work on the photos so I didn’t get to do the blog post either. Today was a lot easier day and we got back to the B&B right about 1700 so I think I might have time to finish this before we head out for dinner.
Anyway…Skellig Michael first.
We got out of the B&B right about 0730 after having some bread with butter and jam along with a cup of coffee. We kept the fruit that we got instead of the sit down breakfast for lunch/snack and headed off. After a quick stop at the Spar (local equivalent of 7-11) and a 90 minute drive over to Portmagee we got to the Skellig Experience Visitor Center about a half hour early so we had an apple for snack and then when the center opened we went ahead and watched the movie and toured the exhibits before the boat ride.
Skellig Michael Monastery was founded about 800 or so by Saint Fionán…although according to the exhibit there were actually two of those…Saint Fionán the Squint Eyed and Saint Fionán the Leper. The monastery was in operation until the 12th or 13th century at which point it was abandoned and the monks moved to an abbey in nearby Ballinskellig on the mainland. It contains 6 beehive huts, two oratories, and a chapel that was built several hundred years after the remainder of the monastery. All are of stacked rubble construction as I talked about the other day. In the 1820s a pair of lighthouses were constructed on the island and they remained in operation and manned until 1987…when they were replaced by automatic lights that are still in service. The monastery is situated on a terrace 600 feet up the 715 foot tall island. Access to the monastery is via climbing 600 stone steps that date from the days when it was built…all were hand constructed by the monks and they are still the only way to the top. There are a lot of serious drop offs on one side of the steps…which are maybe 3 1/2 feet wide although for a good deal of the path there are lesser drops. No handrails either…a couple places had some chain bolted to the rock face but other than that you held onto the cliffside or nothing.
The island is populated by a huge number of Atlantic Puffins…and it happens to be nesting season so we got a bunch of great pictures of them. Neighboring Little Skellig which has never been inhabited and doesn’t even really have a place you can get to for landing from a boat, although we did see a couple of places you could maybe get ashore on a calm day…is populated only by Gannets.
Ok, on with the photos…I’ll let them speak for themselves mostly with only commentary that is needed.
Our ride…we were on the inboard orange boat…the 35 foot or so Agnes Olibhear owned and captained to Eoin (pronounced Owen with a deep Irish brogue) Walsh. Eoin proudly displayed his licensing information which clearly stated that he was licensed to carry 12 passengers…Neil counted 14 but mebbe he just didn’t do the math right.
Heading out into the North Atlantic…which was amazingly calm yesterday with light winds, warm temperatures, and only a 2-3 foot swell for some gentle rolling action. Also our first view of the Skelligs…Little Skellig is on the left just poking out from behind the smaller island closer to the coast (note it looks snow covered but that’s actually bird crap from the 40,000 pairs of nesting Gannets on the island. Skellig Michael is to the right and is about 8 miles offshore a mile past Little Skellig.
Our approach to and landing on the island…the pier is the gray patch just right of center in the second photo. The squiggly line up the green section was the original set of steps…but they were deemed too dangerous by the monks so they constructed a second set that is out of sight around the left hand side of the island. We walked up the sloping path you can see leading away from the dock, around the helo pad you can see jutting out the far left side of the island, then zigzagged up the steps from there to the top.
After a quick safety and respect the island briefing by the warden we started up…the first shot is looking east toward Little Skellig a mile away.
Puffins…we passed within 20 yards of probably 50,000 of these.
A view from our first major stopping point (I’m skipping the half dozen times we stopped so that Connie could catch her breath…Neil needed to do that as well but only needed about half the ones Connie needed; but he wasn’t complaining). This was originally where Connie said “no mas…I’m not going any higher” so Neil went on up on his own. This shot is looking south toward the other peak from where the monastery is…the little flat outcropping on the far end is where the monks went when they needed solitude…we figured that just being on the island was solitude but clearly the monks had a different idea. The shot right after this one is one Connie took from her resting place of Neil making the final push to the top for some monastery photos…and strangely enough is the only shot we got showing the steps themselves. Neil forgot to take any.
Connie said she was done…so Neil went on up; the shot above was taken just about 180 degrees around from the one showing Point Solitude. He got all the photos below of the monastery itself and was coming back down to see Connie…when it turned out that she decided to HTFU, suck it up, overcome your fears, told her legs to shut up, whatever you want to call it but she did make it to the top eventually. The first two shots are of Little Skellig through one of the windows in the monastery wall and the second is proof that she actually did make it up.
Shots of the monastery garden, beehive huts, and other structures in the compound.
With that our visit to the peak was complete (and we needed to head down anyway) so we took a 40 minute hike back down the stairs…Connie had a harder time going down with her vertigo and lack of depth perception than going up so she had one hand on the rock wall and the other on Neil all the way down…and he let her know when there were taller or shorter or narrower steps. We got back down safely with only about half as many stops as on the way up and saw our ride the Agnes O pulling pier side for loading.
Our next stop (well, not actually a stop as we just drove around it) was Little Skellig…but it was on the way anyway. This is home to tens of thousands of breeding pairs of Gannets. You can see on the pictures how many there are per square yard and the closeups show only a very small area…it was literally covered with them and the ones flying around the island looked like snow in front of the rock.
We made our way back to the dock and finally found a bathroom after 6 hours…no facilities on either the boat or the island…and then headed home with a couple of stops for scenery including the best preserved Staigue (landowner) fort in the country, the Ogham Stone which we have no idea what the significance of is, and some overlooks. We were pretty tired so didn’t stop long at any of them.
We arrived back at the B&B about 2100 after stopping for dinner along the way…don’t remember the name of the place but it was one of those targets of opportunity. A pint each…along with roast beef for Connie and stuffed lamb for Neil and our hunger was done.
That’ it for part I, I’ll go ahead and post this and put up another post with today’s journey to the Gap of Dunloe. Easier reading that way.