Sceilg Mhichíl


Sceilg Mhichíl (Skellig Michael) is an early monastic complex on a difficult to access, steep rocky island. The island, also known as Great Skellig, lies about 15 kilometres west of the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. It is the larger of the two Skellig Islands.

For 600 years the island was an important centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. An Irish Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock, was built in 588. The very spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrate the ascetic lifestyle practiced by early Irish Christians. The monks lived in stone 'beehive' huts (clochans), perched above nearly vertical cliff walls.

The buildings on the island consist of the Monastery (including an oratory and St. Michael's Church) and the Hermitage.


Community Reviews

Clyde - September 2012

I visited this WHS in July 2012 and I was lucky to pick a sunny day in the usually rainy Summer in Ireland. The only way to visit this site is on one of the few fishing boats that have a permit to land 12 passengers each on the remote island. In the past, this WHS was considered to be the most remote place on Earth! After braving the high waves of the Atlantic Ocean for about 50 minutes (one-way), I arrived on Skellig Michael. Close to it is the jagged Little Skellig island with a colony of around 200,000 Northern Gannets. On Skellig Michael, I climbed 600+ steep steps (with no railings) which led to a 6th century "bee-hive" monastery. Hiding in burrows all over the island were thousands of cute Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots and basking in the sun on the rocks were some seals. This WHS is by far my favourite so far even though less famous or grandiose than the Pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal or Petra!

Raymond Walsh - July 2010

The Trip to Skellig Michael is a must see if your visiting Kerry. The views are breath taking on the walk up and even more spectacular on the way down. If your carefull and watch what you are doing at all times the walk up is within the capability of most people. The walk up is a series of stone steps which can be uneven and different sizes and shapes. Care needs to be taken on the steps at all times. My aunts who are in their early 70's walked up all the way to the beehive huts. They took their time with plenty of short stops to catch their breath. My advise about the boat trips would be to do a little searching on the web before booking your boat operator. The shortest route is to go from Portmagee. Most operators take 45 minutes either way from Portmagee, however there is one operator who takes 1 hr and 10 mins from Portmagee as he has a smaller engine boat. He shall remain nameless. If you enjoy a longer boat trip then there's no problem but personally, 45 mins is enough for me on a small boat. Despite what some reviews are saying, I did not get a drop of water on me on the trip out. If it's calm, you will not get wet and the boat operators generally wait for relatively calm sea's because of the problem of docking at the pier.

Fox Perignon - July 2009

This is an amazing site to visit, but note that

a) you need a bit of a head for heights, ie if you suffer from vertigo the climb up or more likely the walk down can be pretty scary

b) it's a summer-month thing, between May to September are the only possibilities and even then you need to be lucky with the weather to get a day when the boats can actually land on the island.

I accessed it via the village of Portmagee which is just off the Ring Of Kerry - like others on this site I heard great things about Des Lavelle (who is a local historian and who is based there) and therefore pre-booked with him, by phone - however when we showed up the day before they claimed not to have heard of us and to be fully booked out, wasn't too impressed with them therefore.

However there are plenty of operators in the village (do book in advance in the high season though) and the local bar/hotel/restaurant The Moorings is simply great for a pint, some traditional music and a plate of fish and chips

Ian Cade - May 2006

My experience of visiting this site was absolutely fantastic, visiting World Heritage sites can take to the end of the earth, which is almost literally where Skellig Michael was when it was first inhabited. It was to these monastic retreats on the edge of Europe that the western Christian church effectively retreated to after the fall of Rome.

Skellig Michael is the larger of the two Skellig Islands situated some 12km off the coast of County Kerry, and it is home to a small monastery founded in the seventh century. The bulk of the monastery is on one of the islands two peaks and consists of a few small enclosures and several beehive cells (pictured)which the monks lived in year round. Whilst the remains are not massive they are impressive and more considerable than I imagined them to be. It is their setting that makes them spectacular though, they are perched atop a rather large stone hill surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.

This setting also makes them a fair challenge to get to, the climb from the base of the island is much more precarious than I had imagined, though the accompaniment of a few puffins made it more enjoyable. The dry-stone stair way meanders up the side of the island, at times leaving only sheer cliffs between you and the Atlantic, and as it was originally laid some 1000 years ago it does not provide such modern luxuries as guard rails. This is not a climb I would recommend for a casual afternoon stroll. For me the climb was worth every single moment as the top was breathtaking, the natural setting alone was worth the effort, and the monastery just made me euphoric.

On the other peak there is another small collection of beehive cells, as well as a hermitage, and it is very strongly advised not to visit these, although some people did attempt it once I saw the crossing I could not find the stomach to even contemplate it.

The boat trip out there takes about 1h 30m and be prepared to get very wet, even on calm days. It takes you past Small Skellig (island in picture) which is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Europe’s second largest colony of Gannets dive down from all around, accompanied by Puffins, Guillemots, Seals, Dolphins and a whole host of others to keep you entertained.

Mainland Kerry is also pretty spectacular, especially the drive on the Skellig Ring between Ballinskelligs and Portmagee. The later is the best place I think to head out from as the Skellig Experience museum is there and it is also the home port of Des Lavelle the very friendly and endlessly informative historian of the island, I would recommend hunting him out. In 2006 it cost €40 for the trip giving you about 2 hours on the island enough time to get up down and have a picnic on the way.

This shows the joy of visiting UNESCO sites, without its listing I would probably have never heard of it but my visit was one of the best experiences I have had. I rank the sites I visit out of 10 and this one received a 9, not bad as only the Grand Canyon and Rome received full marks. If you are reasonably fit, have a few days on your hands, and a bit of nerve for the climb I cannot recommend a site any stronger than this one.

Axel Fries - January 2006

Skellig Michael is a tiny island and you have to go there by a small boat, the joutney takes about an hour and the prize is a steep 35 euro but I manged to get it down to 20. The island rises 240m from the sea and you have to climb stairs all the way up to top to visit the very well preserved monastery.

Skellig Michael is inscribed by UNESCO as a cultural heritage but the natural beauty and the wildlife is even more stunning. Puffins and other birds have their nests everywhere on the island. They dive out from the cliffs and seems not scared at all by the humans.

There is a lot of tourists on the island even with the remoteness and the high cost to get there. But it still is a very special and beautiful site, one of my favorites so far.

Hally Windsor

It was brilliant! I have never seen anything like it! Idid a guided tour of the island and found out so much. If I could do it all again I would!

oonagh Ryan-King

i discovered skellig michael in the fall of 97 while taking a Xan celtic spirituality class at the GTU in berkeley CA...the island of liminality haunted me; i wrote my paper for this class on skellig; it is my "place of resurrection."..in aug 99 i visited skellig--it is so much more than any book can describe or even my fertile imagination! the isolation, the stark beauty, the darkness of a beehive cell, the tiny steps carved into and from the rock itself....connected. One...certainly a holy, sacred place....the rock face that once held "the spit" was not open to pilgrims, i am sad to say....it was a warm (for anywhere, but especially for ireland) day, so i could only imagine what skellig must feel like in cold, pouring irish rain in winter....it was very hard to leave such a magnificent place....i can only imagine what skellig is like under a full moon or a new moon with the sky filled with stars...i wonder how disorienting those steps are in fog and clouds.....i would love to be get permission to stay overnight on skellig...

be prepared if you go--to layer for warmth (it was so warm that, within ten minutes of being on the island, the german tourists and i had stripped down to next to nothing). also wear comfortable hiking boots...AND don't drink lots of water before or during the skellig experience; there is no toilet, loo, or bathroom! reclaim the hydration at the first pub when you return to land

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Site Info

Full name: Sceilg Mhichíl

Site History


The site has 1 locations.

  • Sceilg Mhichíl


The site has 18 connections.



  • Cisterns As there is no fresh water supply on Skellig Michael, the monks devised a sophisticated method of water collection to serve their needs. Two water cisterns were constructed within the inner enclosure of the monastery and a third a little to the west. (see link)
  • Cultural sites connected to Cliffs 
  • Domes Domed houses
  • Lighthouses In the 19th century two lighthouses were built; the second lighthouse still operates


  • Seals harbour seal, grey seal



Religion and Belief

  • Augustinian Order The Prior of the Augustinian Abbey at Ballinskelligs was referred to as the Prior de Rupe Michaelis in the early fourteenth century, implying that the island still formed an important part of their monastery at that time. (see link)


  • Built in the 10th century "It was dedicated to St Michael somewhere between 950 and 1050. lt was customary to build a new church to celebrate a dedication, and this date fits in weil with the architectural style of the oldest part of the existing church, known as St Michael's Church." (AB ev)


World Heritage Process