Spiritual Places: Skellig Michael, Ireland.
In the Atlantic Ocean, around 7 miles west of County Kerry’s Ivereagh Peninsula sit two huge sea crags called Little Skellig and Skellig Michael (Great Skellig). A member of UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1996 due to it’s incredible monastic monument, these remote islands have seen a lot of history. Pagan legends state that the early invaders of Ireland, the Tuatha de Danaan, made a pilgrimage here to bury Irr, son of Milesius around 1400 BC. However, it is the monastic monument that holds the main fascination.
The six round huts are attributed to many stories regarding hermit monks, but the most generally accepted one goes like this: a group of monks were seeking to further devote themselves to God, and moved to the island of Great Skellig (Skelling Michael) to be as removed as possible from general life. Building huts from slate rocks, the monks lived a remote life with only the sea, fish, birds and whatever vegetables they could grow for sustenance. Vikings continually attacked and pillaged the island, killing many of its inhabitants, and it is said that the Viking Olav Trygvasson was baptised here by the hermit monks in 933 AD, before he went on to become King of Norway. One of the earliest mentions of the Skellig Islands was in the Annals of Innisfallen in 823 AD, stating “Skelling was plundered by the Heathen and [abbot] Eitgal was carried off”. The generations of monks lived here in relative peace until sometime in the 13th Century, when the whole settlement moved back to the mainland to live in the monastery of Ballinskelligs. There is a legend that states the final battle between St Patrick and the snakes and demons of Ireland took place on this island.
To this day, the islands of Skellig are a popular place of pilgrimage, although some parts are now inaccessible and others are slowly becoming difficult to reach. Today the islands form one of the most important sites for Ireland’s seabird breeding programme, due to the diversity of breeds there and the sheer size of seabird colonies that have made it their home.
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