Skellig Michael (Sceilg Mhichíl) Monastery, Ireland

Beginning in the 600s AD, Christian monks in Ireland strove to come closer to God amidst the isolation of Sceilg Mhichíl.


Skellig Michael is also referred to as the great Skellig and is the larger of the two Skellig islands west of the Iveragh Peninsula. In the 6th century, a Christian monastery was founded on the island; it was occupied until the 12th century when it was abandoned. Before the 6th century, the island was not inhabited. Some scholars have asserted that St. Fionan was the founder of the monastery which is not backed up by concrete evidence. It is estimated that about 12 monks and an abbot lived in the monastery and fed on fish, bird meat and occasionally bird egg. The diet of the monks in the mainland fed on vegetables and cereals since there was vast arable land, unlike the islands. The monastery was inscribed in the UNESCO world heritage sites in 1996.

5. Description and History -

The monastery is located within an inner and outer enclosure on a sloping rock plateau at the north-eastern summit. There are a series of cells which form the north side of the north enclosure. Cell A was the communal cell while cell F is a typical dwelling cell. The monks constructed three sets of steps to the monastery. They were to ensure access during different weather conditions. Only one set of steps (southern Section) is available to the public to use today. In the 1820s, a short section of the south steps was removed to pave the way for the creation of a lighthouse. The massive walls were built of dry stone to create level terracing for the establishment of the monastery. The walls also acted as shields from the wind as well as creating a micro climate to enable growth of essential food. There were some entrances into the monastery with each replacing a previous one. The present day entrance is the third to have been constructed.

4. Tourism -

#4 Tourism -

The island served as a filming location for several scenes in the film; Star Wars. It has featured in several other films and also featured in many documentaries and books. Each year, at least four boat licenses are granted to tour operators during the summer. The steps up the monastery are rocky, steep, and old and are not permitted during the rainy and windy seasons. There are also dive sites around the rock which is one of the favorite tourist sites.

3. Uniqueness -

It the only monastic structure constructed using lime mortar. The sandstone used was brought from Valentia Island for its decorative characteristics. The dry stone buildings in Skellig Michael were all corbelled. It is a unique building technique where individual stones were laid horizontally, each one placed over the previous one in such a way that it overhangs on the inner face. In this way, the interior space reduces as it rises to form a dome like structure.

2. Nature, Sights, and Sounds -

There are several attraction sites in the monastery. The monk's graveyard is located to the East of the large oratory and is defined by long orthostats along its base on the north and west sides. The series of crosses set on the west side are in their original locations. Other sights include Cell F, leachate, water cisterns, and the large oratory.

1. Threats and Conservation -

The current maintenance works started in 1978 where urgent repairs were done to a collapsed wall. In 1980, there was increased focus on architectural preservation of the site to consolidate the retaining walls. The conservation work was expanded in 2004 to include preserving the extensive structural remains on the south peak. The structure includes a series of terraces and platforms as well as other structures relating to the access routes to the peak.


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