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Skellig Michael: Tours, History, Monks & Star Wars

8 min read

By Neil Irvine, SEO Content Editor
More by Neil

Featuring prominently in the last two Star Wars films, the Skellig Islands – and the spectacular Skellig Michael in particular – inspires and attracts visitors from around the world.

Below is a list of eight of our most frequently asked questions about Skellig Michael so read on to learn more!

What is Skellig Michael?
Where are the Skelligs?
Why are the Skellig islands famous?
Why are the Skellig islands a World Heritage Site?
What does Skellig Michael mean?
Why was the island abandoned?
When is Skellig Michael open?
Can I visit Skellig Michael?

What is Skellig Michael?

Skellig Michael is the larger of the two Skellig Islands. Also known as Great Skellig (while the smaller one is known as Little Skellig), it is a recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both islands host sea crags that tower high above forming the beautiful and iconic rock that dominates Skellig. On Skellig Michael, find the remains of an ancient monastic settlement – the most iconic of which are the drystone beehive huts.

Looking out from Skellig Michael, you’ll see the rugged rocky stacks of neighbouring Little Skellig island in the distance, home to one of Europe’s largest colonies of sea birds – particularly 27,000 pairs of gannets!

Skellig Michael up close

The unmistakable Skellig Michael and its iconic rock formation

Where is Skellig Michael?

Skellig Michael is located 11.6 km west of Ireland’s beautiful mountainous Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry.

Use the – button on the map to zoom out and see how far Little Skellig is from Skellig Michael. To see a satellite view and gain an idea of terrain of the landscape, click the little square box on the bottom left hand side. Use the + sign to zoom to take a closer look of the environment in more detail.

Why is Skellig Michael Important/Famous?

The main reason that Skellig Michael is famous today is that both Skellig islands appeared in both the 2015 and the 2017 Star Wars films Episodes VII and VIII. Particularly so in the most recent film, Skellig Michael featured heavily as Luke Skywalker’s island hideaway, where he trained Rey in the ways of becoming a Jedi. The iconic triangular silhouette of the Skellig Islands makes the Skelligs both unique and immediately recognisable – and entirely unforgettable!

Historically, Skellig Michael was inhabited from around the 6th century onwards when a group of monks withdrew from civilisation and took residence on the island. Between the 6th and 8th centuries, a monastery was founded on Skellig Michael and the famous stone ‘beehive huts’ were built by the Christian monks as habitations for those who chose to reside on the island.

Beehive huts on Skellig Michael

These Beehive huts were where the monks of the Island lived – there was little room for luxury

Historically, Skellig Michael was a symbol of friendship between the Vikings and the Christian monks on the island, as Olaf Tryggvason, future king of Norway, was baptised on the island in 993 AD. In typical Viking fashion, this ‘friendship’ only came into existence after the Vikings attempted to raid the area in 823 AD.

Skellig Michael is also known for the number of steps on the island! Nobody seems to agree on the exact number of steps; some people will say there are 618 others will say there are 670 steps, but everyone tends to agree that there are between 600 – 700 stone steps. As you climb the rugged stones up 600 ft (180 meters), feel the historical connection with the monks who lived here as you imagine them climbing up these same steps every day hundreds of years ago.

Explore Star Wars' Skellig Islands - Irish landscapes

Looking out over Little Skellig from Skellig Michael

The iconic location is famous for making an appearance in Irish legend – the myth is that the king of the world, Daire Domhain, used Skellig Michael as preparation ground for a magnificent battle with legendary hunter-warrior Finn MacCool (or Fionn mac Cumhaill in Irish) and his band of warriors known as the army of Fianna.

A great place for birdwatching, Skellig Michael and the Little Skellig are important sea bird habitat. In fact, in 1986 both Skelligs were classified as a Special Protection Area. Skellig Michael’s oldest inhabitants are a variety of different seabirds – the most famous of Skellig Michael’s seabirds are the iconic and adorable Atlantic puffins!

Puffins or porgs - Skellig Michael Star Wars

Skellig Michael’s most famous resident – the puffin

Other Bird Species Include:

  • Gannet
  • Guillemot
  • Storm Petrel
  • Manx Shearwater
  • Kittiwake
  • Razorbill
A seabird circulating the sea surrounding Skellig Michael

A number of different types of sea birds decorate the sea that surrounds the Skellig Islands

Take a Trip to a Galaxy Far, Far Away and Learn More About Skellig Michael and its Connections to Star Wars:

Escaping the world of fantasy and venturing back into the real world the Great Skellig Island is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Why is Skellig Michael a World Heritage Site?

In 1996 the United Nations recognised Skellig Michael as a World Heritage Site. The island achieved the status by meeting specific criteria due to cultural significance and was described as having ‘exceptional universal value’ and as well as being a ‘unique’ example of a piece of land evidencing the creation of an early religious settlement.

Skellig Michael met two forms of UNESCO criteria:

  1. A unique demonstration of cultural tradition of a civilisation that has disappeared.
  2. It is an outstanding example of building/landscape which highlights a momentous stage in human history.


This area truly is remarkable and you can sense the echoes of the ancient inhabitants who once lived here in their chosen isolation.

What Does Skellig Michael Mean?

Skellig Michael in Irish is called ‘Sceilig Mhichil’ and Great Skellig in the Irish language is named ‘Sceilig Mhor.’ Skellig Michael unquestionably has a distinctive appearance with its huge rock stack standing tall almost as if it is reaching for the heavens. Fittingly, the word ‘Skellig’ from Irish Gaelic can be translated to ‘rock in the sea.’

Looking towards Little Skellig from Great Skellig

Another beautiful view of Little Skellig from Skellig Michael

Why was Skellig Michael Abandoned?

It is not known as to when the exact date that the monks left the Island, but the monastery located on Skellig Michael was continually occupied until roughly the 12th or 13th century.

Already exceedingly remote and inhospitable, weather conditions declined further. During the 13th century, the climate around Skellig Michael grew colder and thus was more prone to storms. Too much for the monks to endure, they decided to relocate to an abbey in Ballinskelligs on the mainland of County Kerry.

When is Skellig Michael Open?

The island is open to the public starting from the middle of May and closing at the end of September. There are only a handful of licensed boats allowed to land on Skellig Michael (landing on the Little Skellig is not permitted), but all boat trips are extremely weather dependant.

Due to the popularity of the island, we recommend booking your place as far in advance as possible – before the season starts is best. As the boat sailings are weather dependant, we recommend you spend a few days in the region in case the weather causes your trip to be cancelled.

Another option is to take a non-landing boat trip, which circles both the Little Skellig and Skellig Michael, but doesn’t land. This is good for those who don’t want to climb 600+ steps or in cases where there isn’t any availability for landing tours.

What's the easiest way to visit Skellig Michael?

Of course you can! Due to their popularity and dependance on weather, the best and easiest way to visit the island is by booking a tour. On our Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry, you’ll enjoy an adventure to the beautifully historic Skellig Michael Island without enduring the hassle of organising the boat trip – you can leave the that to us!

A boat trip to Skellig Michael

Arriving to Skellig Michael by boat

Not only will you have the opportunity to enjoy a guided trip to the Island, but you can explore many different places of Cork and Kerry on an unforgettable guided hiking journey.

If you prefer a private family holiday, you may want to book our exciting Family Adventure – Legends of the Southwest. Not only will you have your own private guide and transport, you and your family will visit many of the hidden corners of Cork and Kerry, trying different activities such as kayaking, ghost tours – even creating your on toy!

For those who prefer a custom-designed trip, feel free to contact our expert trip designers to build the perfect trip for you.

You’ll also be able to see the Skelligs from dry land on the famous Skellig Ring, listed on Lonely Planet’s Top Regions to Visit in 2016. Though a short drive, the Skellig Ring packs a bundle – not only will you get phenomenal panoramas of the Skelligs, you’ll also get to walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs (tetrapods to be exact) on Valentia Island, as well as some spectacular cliffs on Kerry’s amazing coastline.

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Meet the Author: Neil Irvine

“Neil, our Scottish Highlander, has travelled all over Ireland (and Scotland!). Though originally from the city, Neil prefers the tranquillity of the outdoors. Joining Wilderness in 2017, Neil is our SEO expert.”

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