The following are photos taken by my wife on a trip to the Skelligs, off the Kerry coast, in August 2008. Since then, two tourists have died in falls there. I posted the text that follows as a MyT blog.
My wife and I spent last week on the Iveragh peninsula in Co. Kerry, in the south-west of Ireland, with our daughter and two of her friends. The combination of high mountains, jagged coastline and pristine beaches makes this a stunningly beautiful area, and very popular with tourists (Killarney was one of the first ‘resorts’ anywhere, I think). Kerry is washed by the Gulf Stream and there’s a slightly ‘Mediterranean’ feel, notwithstanding the frequent showers of rain.
Last Wednesday we took a boat trip to the Skelligs (Little Skellig and Skellig Michael), two large rocks that rise from the Atlantic twelve kilometres off the coast and comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Little Skellig, which as far as I know has never been inhabited, has the world’s second-largest colony of gannets – 30,000 or so pairs, which allow no other birds to settle. Skellig Michael is an amazing, other-worldly place, which had a colony of monks for five centuries or so, from the sixth century onwards. They constructed stone ‘beehive’ buildings to serve as living quarters, cookhouse and church, and grew vegetables on the island’s sparse but rich soil. Their life must have been extremely Spartan and demanding, especially given that the Vikings raided from time to time (on one occasion taking the abbot away and starving him to death).
After a rough crossing on a small open boat from Portmagee, we disembarked at Skellig Michael and climbed the steep stone steps to the monks’ settlement – luckily, I have a good head for heights. An American man and woman serve as state-employed guides, and gave interesting talks on the islands’ history.
A lighthouse was constructed on Skellig Michael in the nineteenth century, and the keeper and his family lived permanently on the island – there is a poignant grave of two boys, aged two and four, who fell ill one winter and had died before help could be summoned. A teacher used to come to the island to teach the children there, and cattle were also brought over at that time. (The lighthouse is automatic now, of course.)
On our way back down to the harbour, puffins with beaks full of sprats were landing on each side of the path, returning to their burrows. We saw choughs and numerous other species of bird, as well as seals on the rocks. On the return boat trip the boatman offered us some freshly caught fish, which I was slightly too nauseous to accept … although we were happy to pay €100 for a great fish dinner in the Moorings, Portmagee, the following night.