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The Skelligs: A Galaxy Not So Far Away



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In the Wild Atlantic Way’s beautiful far SouthWest – where the ancient Kingdom of Kerry meets captivating West Cork – five great peninsulas with mountainous spines stretch miles out into the ocean.

Down here, there’s a distinctly edge-of-the-world feel and in a Kerry corner of these Southern Peninsulas, the majestic rocky peaks of the Skellig Islands jut upwards out of the Atlantic swells.

 
 

To Irish people, with their 618 stone steps ascending 200m, they’re probably considered the country’s most astounding UNESCO World Heritage Site, Na Scealga as Gaeilge.

To film fans they’re another planet altogether, refuge of legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker in the most recent box office-smashing Star Wars instalments. To history buffs, they’re home to an incredibly well-preserved ancient monastic outpost - Skellig Michael in particular. 

But to absolutely everyone, these two islands are utterly mesmerising.

 
  • The rocky points of Na Scealga as Gaeilge. Credit @storytravelers
 

Monks and Mettle

Perched 12km from the mainland, the Skelligs are two remote sea crags: Skellig Michael, known as the Great Skellig, and its smaller neighbour, Little Skellig. Their rich history dates way back to the sixth century, when a group of early Christian monks settled on Skellig Michael and, astonishingly, founded a monastery there. Despite the raw might of the Atlantic elements and the fact that the monks left as long ago as the 13th century, the ancient hermitage is in extraordinary condition and monastic remains can still be found there.

 

Part of the otherworldly islands’ charm is that visitors can follow in the monks’ time-worn footsteps on Skellig Michael. The hundreds of individually-carved winding, stone steps leading up to the monastery are almost 1,500 years old. At the top sit six beehive huts where the monks slept, a church dedicated to St Michael, a walled garden and an early oratory. There’s also a cemetery with 22 grave slabs on the grounds.

 
 

“Circled by screaming gulls, it’s a true end-of-the-world location for those soul-searching settlers.”
Lonely Planet

 

Wowing the World

And that’s just the tip of the Skellig when it comes to how enamoured travellers the world over have become with these two rocky relics. Having long been a beloved visitor destination, cosmic forces have of course been at work when it comes to their recent rise in popularity. Between director JJ Abrams having The Skelligs double as a Jedi sanctuary in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the franchise’s return to the islands for the highly anticipated next chapter, The Last Jedi, their extraterrestrial appeal seems almost infinite.

Award-winning American photographer and travel blogger Gary Arndt was incredibly impressed on his visit to the Skelligs, writing “Simply put, Skellig Michael is fantastic. It is by far the most amazing thing I’ve seen in Ireland, and in my book it is one of the top world heritage sites in all of Europe.”

 

Also awed by its Skelligs experience, National Geographic Traveller wrote of the iconic peaks “you’ll remember it forever. This is Ireland’s Machu Picchu.” So it’s quite fitting that Lonely Planet also included the Skellig Ring, the picturesque route that connects Valentia Island with Waterville via the Ballinskelligs’ Gaeltacht area and the islands themselves, in the top 10 of their coveted Best in Travel 2017.

 
  • Little Skellig. Credit @storytravelers
 

Spotting the Skelligs

 

So you’re living it up on the Wild Atlantic Way and want to know the best places to take in some Skelligs views, right? Aside from taking the limited capacity, seasonal boat tours out to visit Skellig Michael (the view of Little Skellig from atop its older sibling is of course unrivalled), there are a number of prime vantage points on the mainland that offer exquisitely clear views of these magnificent islands.

 
 
The Twin Peaks as seen from the Coomanaspic Pass
 

The views from the incredible heights of Coomanaspic Pass in Portmagee are simply something else. From the right spot it’s possible to see over both sides of the Iveragh Peninsula marked with dramatic cliff faces that drop straight to the sea, all with the two famous not-quite-twin peaks in view.

 
  • The beautiful Blasket Islands
 

At Bray Head Signature Point on the southern tip of Valentia Island, your gentle uphill stroll is rewarded and then some with cliff views of the Skelligs, the Blasket Islands and the Dingle Peninsula.

 
 
View the Skelligs from Ballinskelligs
 
How about coupling a day at the beach with some ancient history? From beautiful Ballinskelligs Blue Flag beach you can marvel at the Skellig Islands’ peaks rising right out of the Atlantic as you stroll across the sand. Great panoramas are also there for the taking at St Finian’s Bay, the very shoreline from where the monks set sail for Skellig Michael.

 

 
  • See the Skelligs from the Kerry Cliffs
 

The Kerry Cliffs, just off the Skellig Ring, offer the nearest viewing point to the Skellig Islands and to Puffin Island. Views of a UNESCO World Heritage Site while standing on 1,000ft-high, 400-million-year-old cliffs? Now that’s pretty special.

 

The Skellig Islands are just one of the many wonders along the Wild Atlantic Way. Look beyond and find even more must-see Signature Discovery Points in this spectacular part of the world.

 
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