I have had the Skellig Islands on my to-do list for years but as other more ‘exotic’ locations cropped up that demanded my attention the islands fell a little further down the list. To my shame.
So when a friend of mine came over from the States to do an Ireland road trip and mentioned the Skelligs were on her itinerary I did a little hurray dance. Then, of course, I got the inevitable eye roll and jokey dig when I mentioned I was going to SOME people! ‘Ah you’re a Star Wars fan now, are you?! Ha, only going out to see the islands now that they are famous?’ Dammit, NO! I am not a Star Wars fan and have been intending to go for ages. But it was useless protesting so I smiled and nodded and ignored them and booked my ticket anyway!
I must admit I was a little taken aback at the price of the tickets and while I appreciate the boats do take you right out to the islands and the captain may even give you a few fun facts as you sail around. And I guess he does drop you off safely and come back to collect you a few hours later BUT still it seems a leeetle expensive for what is essentially a water taxi to a rock and back.
Click here for a list of operators to contact and book you own day trip. At €60 per person (payable in cash on the day) in May, June, September and October and €70 in July and August, it is a pricey ride out. I contacted Seanie Murphy and booked our day trip from Portmagee harbor. I would recommend booking as early as you can and having a few dates to choose from to avoid disappointment. Also be prepared as the boats cannot go if the weather is very bad and visitors are not allowed to climb the steps in very wet or windy conditions as the rocks become slippery and treacherous. Since the islands were featured in the Star Wars movies; ‘The Force Awakens’ and set for a winter release in ‘The Last Jedi’, the interest in boat trips to the island has increased hugely. I am not kidding you when I tell you that I saw a couple disembark at the boat mooring with plastic light sabres in their backpacks. I regret HUGELY not getting a photo of that! They weren’t kids either. Just so you know. I wasn’t able! Not that I am judging, but I am , a little bit.
Skelligs ( Michael/ Mhicil and Beag-meaning small) are about 12/13km south west of Valentia Island in Kerry. Skellig Michael, the larger island, is a designated UNESCO world Heritage Site with a well preserved monastic settlement at the summit dating to possibly the 8th century. Skellig Beag is the second largest gannet colony in the world and the stinkiest, guano rock I have ever seen! If you are lucky you will see some dolphins, or whales and some seals as well as all the puffins, gannets and seagulls.
Our skipper took us out on a slighty chilly morning, with ominous grey skies over frothy waves to the rocky outcrop.
It took about an hour there and an hour back and we were left on the island for about 3 hours. I would not reccommend this trip if you have mobility issues. The steps are steep and many and vertical (!) and to get from the boat to the shore you need to time your jump onto the steps with the rising boat. Plus there is even a sign warning visitors about the possibility of death is you don’t pay attention to where you walk and act the maggot on the steps. While I was there there were a few children, one little girl looked about 6 and fair dues to her she was well behaved but if your kids are the clambering, mischevious, monkey types, my heart would be in my mouth for you. Aside from the bazillion steps there were puffins, everywhere. Flying in and out of their nests. All over the place. Just think about it! Maybe the boat ride around the island would suit them better.
There are OPW (Office of Public Works) staff at the beginning of the steps reminding you of the safety instructions and can radio for help if it is needed. There are also staff members on the top of the steps where the settlement is. Should you have any questions like ‘A puffin flew off with my camera, what should I do?’, or ‘I need to pee but there is no sheltered safe place to pee. Where do I pee?’. Good luck with both!
The hike to the top is rewarded with spectacular views. The beehive huts are restored and preserved and you can go inside and feel how cold and damp it is in there and marvel at the sanity of the monks who make this razor rock their home. Mentallers. Growing crops is limited as the soil is unforgiving and exposed and supplies needed to be brought ashore on boats which could not travel in choppy conditions. And let’s face it, this is Ireland. Choppy conditions are more than likely!
If you fancy paying a little less (€30 per adult and €17.50 per child) and don’t want to face the daunting, 600 stone steps you can get a shorter boat tour that will take a cruise around the islands, lasting about two hours.
What to wear:
- Well obviously this is weather dependent and I cannot even begin to predict the Irish weather for you. If it is any way windy or wet, bundle up. The sea spray soaked my trousers on the boat on the way back and I was not best pleased. The boat has tarpaulins for you to pull over yourself but water proof trousers would be the way forward.
- Good, sturdy walking shoes. The steps are no joke and you don’t want to be wearing flip flops going up there. They’re practically vertical!
- Light layers for the climb. You will heat up as you walk and roast by the time you reach the top after the climb. Just so you know.
- If it’s a sunny day I’d still pack a sweater for the boat ride and pop on some sun cream.
- I wore a light rain coat with a hood. This was needed. As we climbed higher we ascended into low clouds so it was a little drizzly at the top while we listened to teh guides talking about the settlement’s history.
What to bring:
- There is no where to eat on the island, obviously! So pack a snack if you feel you’ll need it and water. There are no bins so take all your rubbish away with you.
- There are no bathrooms on the island so don’t go crazy on that water you’ve brought!
- In your backpack put your camera, water and snack to keep your hands free.
We warmed up in QC‘s in Cahersiveen with some delicious chowder because the restaurants in Portmagee were quite busy. Here is a list for your perusal, just in case you get there before the crowd does. Great seafood, open faced prawn and crabmeat sandwiches and bowls of chowder are always a great idea! Be prepared for a long day if you choose the boat trip that drops you off on the island. We were tired puffins by the time our day out was through.