I traveled from Dublin to Skellig Michael for my Skellig Michael tour. Climb more than 600 stone steps and visit the Star Wars island in Ireland where parts of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi were filmed.
I visited Skellig Michael after Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released and am still thinking about the island long after Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Getting to the island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was unbelievable all in itself.
I have visited incredible places on Earth, but few felt like my temple, my place of worship. This is strange for me to say, because I am not a religious person. Then I traveled from Dublin 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.
My two-hour visit to the island was a pilgrimage. It was impossible to visit this site and not feel the tug of something more powerful, a force that is hard 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.
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 Skellig Michael for 600 years. Most recently, the island was used in Star Wars: The Force Awakens to depict planet Ahch-To. It was also the location of the first Jedi Temple 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 Landing Tours
Due to the popularity of the latest Star Wars movie, Skellig Michael is a hot-ticket destination. Seats on the small boats that go to the island move lightning fast. Only 150 people are allowed on the island each 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 captain makes the decision if you go or not. I had three days in the village of Portmagee and one chance to visit the island. Everything comes down to the weather and nature. It can be nerve-wracking.
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. All travel to the island was banned, at that time. I feverishly read Irish newspapers on my phone to figure out whether or not I had to change my travel plans in a hurry.
I took a gamble and left Canada without changing plans. The island reopened upon my arrival. Now the only thing that would stop my island visit was the weather. 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.
I was initially 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 town, I hailed a taxi to the even smaller Portmagee.
Once there, the weather was often miserable. While speaking to locals in the pubs, I learned few boats had went since the season started. Others informed me they had tried twice a year for up to three years to visit Skellig Michael, only to have their day ruined by high seas, wind and rain, making the island a truly wild place.
It’s impossible to know if you’ll go to Skellig Michael or not, but even though I knew great hurdles were ahead, the small chance I would make it propelled me forward. On the morning of my boat trip, the weather was sunny and the ocean calm. I raced to the docks. The captain told us the seas were going to be rough. He wasn’t kidding.
All boats have lifejackets and emergency rafts. No one wore the life vests, on my boat at least. We wore fishermen’s full waterproof coats and pants. The waves would have soaked us to the skin otherwise. All part of the adventure.
The approach to the island was amazing. 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 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 climb any higher.
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.