Tips and travel guide advice on visiting Skellig Michael, Ireland (Ring of Kerry). It’s the island Star Wars used to film Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s also a mystic location well known for its Christian heritage and spiritualism. It’s now one of my favourite places on Earth. I will never forget Skellig Michael Ireland.
I visited Skellig Michael May 2016 after Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released. But, getting to the island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was unbelievable all in itself.
I have visited incredible places on Earth.
I have seen countless sites, many of them amazing, but few felt like my temple, my place of worship. This is strange for me to say, because I am not religious.
Then I traveled from Portmagee to Skellig Michael, an island 12 kilometres off the Irish coast. It’s a place of deep faith, spiritualism and the awesome power of nature.
To me, a two-hour visit was my pilgrimage. It was impossible to visit this site and not feel the tug of something more powerful, a force that is challenging to describe.
History suggests hermetic monks traveled to the island in the 6th century AD and, stone-by-stone, built the precarious steps, the cliffside monastery and its beehive chapels.
To them, this was the end of the world. It was a place where they could leave the physical behind and be closer to God. They lived and prayed on the island for 600 years.
Most recently, the island was used in Star Wars: The Force Awakens to depict planet Ahch-To. It’s also, hopefully, the location of the first Jedi Temple in that series’ lore.
We’re definitely going to see the island in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
More than 1,400 years after it was constructed, the beloved sci-fi and fantasy films are using the island’s ascetic history as the self-exile for lonely Luke Skywalker.
Skellig Michael Islands Boat Trip (Travel Guide)
Due to the popularity of the latest Star Wars film, Skellig Michael Ireland is a hot-ticket destination. Seats on the small boats that go to the island move lightning fast.
There are only 150 people allowed on the island per day. The tourism season starts mid-May and concludes at the end of September. This is a strict rule.
To make visiting more challenging, many days are marred by poor weather and the boats do not make the crossing. Even if you’re booked, the decision to go is the captain’s.
Before I left Canada for Ireland, there was little to no information about the tourism demand after Star Wars was released. All posts were written before the film came out.
I tried to book my seat on a boat two months in advance. Booked solid. I tried to secure my seat in late April, but even then, space was limited. I can’t imagine the busy season.
I ended up on a boat, but I had to email around. The site I used told me there was no space on my preferred travel day, but an email to the owners informed me otherwise.
I had three days in the village and had only booked one day for myself. That was the first of many miracles to come. There would be more challenges ahead.
Problems emerged weeks before I arrived. A serious landslide affected the island and my hopes of visiting were further reduced when a major rockfall hit Skellig Michael’s path.
At that point, all travel was banned. I feverishly read Irish newspapers on my phone to figure out whether or not I had to change my travel plans.
I took a gamble and left home without changing plans. Once I arrived, the island reopened and the only thing that would stop my travel was weather. Still daunting, of course.
From Dublin, I traveled by train, bus and taxi to Portmagee. Most people rent their own vehicle and drive to the remote southwest coast of Ireland, but public transport worked.
Initially I was on the train to Cork, but transferred in Mallow. From there, I hopped on another train to Killarney.
Then, I boarded a bus to Cahersiveen. From that tiny town, I hailed a taxi to the even smaller centre of Portmagee.
Once there, the weather was often miserable. Rain and wind were plentiful. While speaking to locals in the pubs, I learned few boats had went since the season started.
Other travellers informed me they had tried twice a year for up to three years to visit the island, only to have their day ruined by high seas, wind and rain making the island unsafe.
It’s impossible to know whether or not you’ll go to Skellig Michael, but even though I knew great hurdles were ahead, the small chance I would make it forced me ahead.
On the morning of my boat trip, the weather was sunny and the ocean was calm enough for us to go. It was an incredibly lucky moment and I raced excitedly to the docks.
The boat captain told us the seas were going to be rough and he wasn’t kidding. All boats have lifejackets and emergency rafts, but no one wore them on my boat, at least.
What we did wear was fishermen’s full waterproof coats and pants, because of the great splashes that soaked us on the way to Skellig Michael. All part of the adventure.
The approach to the island remains one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. I was so excited I stood up to see more, and was chastised by the captain.
Pro Tip: Don’t stand up when the boat captain tells you not to.
While on the island, the steps are often precarious and steep, but if you watch where your feet are at all times and ensure you are focused while climbing, you will be safe.
If you have health concerns, climbing the 618 steps to the monastery, unfortunately, might not be for you. It’s often that people pass by others who can’t move further.
The monastery at the top remains one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen on my travels. Its remote location, history and a sense of danger created a ‘wow’ moment.
From Christ’s Saddle to the monastery site, I will never forget Skellig Michael.