People often say that in life, “We don’t know what we had until it’s gone”. When it comes to world travellers, we often experience something very similar. We never truly appreciate the beauty of our own country until we are exploring a place thousands of miles away. It is only when we leave our homeland that we begin to look back at the place we once lived with a longing to return.
Having travelled outside of Ireland on and off for over ten years, it was amazing to return home recently and discover a tiny pocket of Ireland that I never knew existed. Thus, when the European Commission approached me to write about one of Ireland’s best kept secrets, I knew straight away I simply had to write about Skellig Michael.
My parents had always been raving about this set of islands off the coast of Kerry, and were very keen to bring my sister, my cousin Karen who was visiting from America, and myself on a day trip there. We wouldn’t regret the early morning start, my Dad kept saying.
Visiting Skellig Michael is quite the challenge!
It is located 12km off the west coast of County Kerry, a rocky outcrop standing tall in the Atlantic Ocean. The island is home to a 6th century monastery, famous in archaeology circles the world over, over 4,000 Atlantic Puffins and spectacular views across to small Skellig which is home to the second largest colony of gannets in the world.
Whether you desire to visit this magical island to admire the marine life such as dolphins, whales and seal colonies, to stand in amazement at the ancient monastic settlements or to spend hours photographing the cutest birds in the world, a trip here is one you will never forget.
On that fateful July day a few years ago, we totally lucked out with the weather and woke up to clear blue skies, sunshine and a cool breeze. At this point I should emphasis how special this was. First off, booking a trip and visiting Skellig Michael (and the Skelligs in general) is a tricky task. Each year, to preserve the island and it’s marine and bird life, only 13 boat licences are handed out to local tour operators who must be contacted personally by phone to book a tour. These boats only operate in good weather, usually between May and October and if the weather is bad no tours will go ahead. This means the amount of people who will ever get the opportunity to visit this incredible place is severely restricted.
To actual book a tour and wake up to a clear sky and sunshine? You have hit the jackpot!
The boat ride itself was way longer than I thought it would be, reminding me how remote these islands really are and how difficult it must have been to both build a monastery on such an inhospitable island and then to actually live there in solitude. When we eventually set down on the island, getting off the boat was tricky and we were warned to watch out step as there are very few railings on the island and the steps can be both very steep and very slippery.
Stepping foot on the island was like being transported back in time. The scenery is honestly out of this world, there are very few people around and I got this odd feeling that sort of made me realise I was in a very special place.
While I found the ancient monastic settlement at the very top of the island beautiful, a true look back at history, it was the puffins that really blew me away.
They were EVERYWHERE. You could get up close and personal with them and you could help but laugh at how funny looking they are and how cute they act with each other. These adorable birds combined with the spectacular views of the Atlantic, and pods of dolphins passing by if you’re really lucky, made sitting on the steep steps of Skellig Michael and looking back at the Irish mainland one of the best travel experiences of my life.
I have seen Angkor Wat at dawn, watched the sun set over the African plains as giraffes and elephants roamed on by, swam with dolphins in New Zealand and dived in the Indian Ocean with turtles and clown fish but to this day nothing beats visiting Skellig Michael on a fine summers day! A true moment of wonder.
Do you enjoy travelling in Europe? Share hidden travel destinations and wonders on the Wonder Map application on Facebook! You can win train tickets to travel in Europe as well as inspire others to take the road less known! Follow #MyWonderfulEurope and ‘Europe. Wonder is all around.’ on Facebook. Learn more about “Europe. Wonder is all around.”, the European Commission’s campaign promoting tourism, here.