Skellig Michael [sceilg mhicil]

May 8, 2007


image from sacred sites

Marcus Demuth is Kayaking around Ireland this summer and has some interesting information on his website. The thing that jumped out one me was some pictures of a place called Skellig Michael, one of the ‘skelligs’, 12km off the coast of SW Ireland. It’s a world heritage site, at least 1400 years old and well preserved early christian monastry that reminds me very much of the Japanese monastic tradition:

“The second and highest of the two peaks on Skellig Michael, 714 feet above sea level. There’s a prehistoric ‘standing stone’ on top, with incised Celtic Cross. Medieval pilgrims, after visiting the monastery, would climb to the top and kiss the rock, thus proving their piety” source


“An incredible, impossible, mad place. I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in; it is part of our dream world.”
George Bernard Shaw

location map:

map from unseco site

All of the following quoted by Marcus Demuth:

“The Skelligs are thought to be, from certain perspectives, the single most committing paddle in Ireland.” David Walsh: Oileain – A guide to the Irish Islands

The following is from Brian Wilson’s book “Dances with Waves”:

” … It was not until I was within a mile of its cliffs that Little Skellig at last stood out as a distinct mass from Skellig Michael. Towering above the white-capped waves, a bright guano-limewash highlighted the saw-ridged form of the high-rise sea bird colony. At first sight what looked like a plume of volcanic smoke hung over the island’s four hundred foot peak; but greater proximity brought better definition: thousands of gannets were swarming in a flight-cloud so dense as to reduce the daylight. The skyway filled to saturation with white, whirring adult birds. The whole island too was alive with creamy-headed gannets; every available ledge on the serrated cliffs and pinnacles had been claimed.

l emerged from the gannet cloud thoroughly caked in a rapidly hardening whitewash, looking, I supposed, like a scale replica of the island itself, and unable, for the moment to do anything about it. Beyond the slight shelter of Little Skellig, the sea took on an extra dimension. A large swell had built up and was breaking heavily in places, sometimes from a height of five feet – well above eye level when you’re sitting in a kayak and quite daunting when eight miles from land. The sudden need to perform decisive bracing strokes – sweeping the paddle across the water’s surface to gain the extra support necessary to right the kayak using a hip movement – gave the situation an extra edge of tension. Skellig Michael now lay across a final mile of heavy water, its dramatic shape and massive berg-like presence tempting me ever onward. But the bright, bouncy morning was gone; cloud had closed in and the wind had increased to force five, and I began to doubt whether it would be possible to land on the rock.

Beneath the towering rocks of Skellig Michael I surged and stalled, rising and falling on reflected waves. A twelve foot swell was pounding against the landing platform, fully exposed to the sea’s assault. One moment I was level with the waves worrying the concrete step; the next I would be plunging downward until the platform was several yards above my head. To have tried to land there would have risked serious damage to the boat – and probably also to me. Skirting the rock gingerly, I found a second landing site, away from the sea’s main force, at a place named Blind Man’s Cove, where a flight of steps from the lighthouse ended in a submerged concrete block. But even here the swell was flushing in with great force, before sucking suddenly back to reveal a great void above the ubiquitous tearing rock. Alone there was no way to land without damage to the kayak; and as the kayak was my only ticket back to St Finan’s Bay, I couldn’t take that risk. With a sinking heart I began to realise not only that I’d be unable to explore the Skellig, but that, after almost three hours in the kayak, I wouldn’t even be able to stretch my legs and have a pee. The long low line of the mainland, from Dursey Head to the Blasket islands, was just a distant smudge on the eastern horizon.

Well, the wind strengthened and the sea grew yet bolder, and the long journey landward became one of my roughest and most protracted ever …”

It looks so, South Pacific. Pictures here


2 Responses to “Skellig Michael [sceilg mhicil]”

  1. Katherine Kay-Mouat Says:

    I would like to use your photos of Skelling for the unesco desk diary,could you contact me urgently.Please.

  2. Great blog! I actually love how it’s simple on my eyes in addition to the info is well written. I will be wondering generate an income could be notified when a health post has been. Concerning enrolled in your rss feed which must do the actual! Use a nice day!

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