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Great Skellig (Skellig Michael)

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Overview





Great Skellig is the larger of two prominent pinnacle rock islets that lay off the southwest coast of Ireland and about seven miles out from the Iveragh Peninsula. Great Skellig or Skellig Michael, is the outer islet and the site of a remote island hermitage that is a UNESCO World Heritage Property. The island has a small landing pier that enables visitors to access the island.

Great Skellig is the larger of two prominent pinnacle rock islets that lay off the southwest coast of Ireland and about seven miles out from the Iveragh Peninsula. Great Skellig or Skellig Michael, is the outer islet and the site of a remote island hermitage that is a UNESCO World Heritage Property. The island has a small landing pier that enables visitors to access the island.

Great Skellig is realistically a stay-aboard location that can only be visited in settled conditions. The island is too steep and deep to realistically anchor off and the small quay too tight and busy. Realistically it is a location where a vessel should stand off hove-to or sit and drift immediately offshore and land a visiting crew by tender. Navigation is straightforward as the island is unmistakable and the approach to the landing area is clear of off-lying dangers.
Please note

Expect the landing area to be busy with tourist launches.




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Keyfacts for Great Skellig (Skellig Michael)
Facilities
None listed


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationJetty or a structure to assist landingScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
None listed

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

Approaches
4 stars: Straightforward; when unaffected by weather from difficult quadrants or tidal consideration, no overly complex dangers.
Shelter
1 stars: Stay-aboard; lunch stop or tide-wait exposed or tenacious holding location where a vessel should not be left unattended.



Last modified
March 18th 2022

Summary

A stay-aboard location with straightforward access.

Facilities
None listed


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationJetty or a structure to assist landingScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
None listed



Position and approaches
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Haven position

51° 46.387' N, 010° 32.172' W

This is about 50 metres northwest of the quay in Blind Man’s Cove at the northeast corner of the island.

What is the initial fix?

The following Skellig Michael Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
51° 46.395' N, 010° 31.949' W
This is about 200 metres east of Blind Man’s Cove.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern Ireland’s Coastal Overview for Mizen Head to Loop Head Route location.

  • Great Skellig is clear of outlying dangers save for Washerwoman Rock, 1.8 metres high, which lies 600 metres south-westward of the islet where the lighthouse stands.

  • About 100 metres off its north end there are also two sunken rocks.


Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to Great Skellig (Skellig Michael) for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Portmagee - 9.3 nautical miles NE
  2. Ballinskellig Bay - 10.4 nautical miles ENE
  3. Knightstown - 13.2 nautical miles NE
  4. Darrynane Harbour - 14.4 nautical miles E
  5. Cooncrome Harbour (Cuas Crom) - 15.4 nautical miles NE
  6. Cahersiveen - 15.4 nautical miles NE
  7. Dursey Sound - 17.7 nautical miles SE
  8. West Cove - 17.9 nautical miles E
  9. Garnish Bay - 18 nautical miles ESE
  10. Great Blasket Island - 20.1 nautical miles N
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Portmagee - 9.3 miles NE
  2. Ballinskellig Bay - 10.4 miles ENE
  3. Knightstown - 13.2 miles NE
  4. Darrynane Harbour - 14.4 miles E
  5. Cooncrome Harbour (Cuas Crom) - 15.4 miles NE
  6. Cahersiveen - 15.4 miles NE
  7. Dursey Sound - 17.7 miles SE
  8. West Cove - 17.9 miles E
  9. Garnish Bay - 18 miles ESE
  10. Great Blasket Island - 20.1 miles N
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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Chart
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

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What's the story here?
Tourist launch off of Blind Man's Cove Great Skellig
Image: Tourism Ireland


Great Skellig, also called Skellig Michael, is a twin-pinnacled crag that lies 7½ miles to the west of Bolus Head on the Iveragh Peninsula. It is the outer island of the two conspicuous pyramidic shaped outliers. Little Skellig, 130 metres high and steep-to, lies about 1 mile northeastward of Great Michael. Skellig Michael is nearly a ½ mile long and about a ¼ of a mile wide, and 218 metres high, with two lighthouses (one disused) on its western side. On the high eastern side, there are the remains of a monastic establishment that date at least the 6th Century built of dry stone masonry. it remains solid and unbroken after 14 centuries and is accessed via a small Blind Man’s Cove quay set into a small gut below.


Tourist launches alongside the quay in Blind Man's cove in very settled
conditions

Image: Irish Fireside via CC BY 3.0


There is no good anchorage off the very steep too island with deep waters all round. Nor is it a realistic possibility to come alongside its landing quay situated on the northeast tip of the island, looking across to the Little Skellig. It is busy with island ferries (typically from 1030 to 1500 hrs.) and subject to a strong surge and scend even on the calmest days. The best option is to leave the boat standing off with a competent crewman and land by dinghy which in itself will be a challenge. But contact the island staff in advance using VHF Ch 9.


How to get in?
Great Skellig, with Little Skellig and Lemon Rock in the backdrop
Image: Tourism Ireland


Convergance Point Use Ireland’s coastal overview for Mizen Head to Loop Head Route location for seaward approaches. The Skellig Islands lie, between 6½ and 7½ miles to the west of Bolus Head, and about 14 miles northwest of The Bull.

Great Skellig, also known as Skellig Michael, majestically rises out of the sea to a height of 218 metres and is as unmistakable as it is unforgettable to approach from seaward. It appears pyramidic from the west and east but from other points of approach it has two peaks with Needle’s Eye, the island's highest, seen to rise from the northwest part of the islet, and between it and the eastern peak, 186 metres high, is a deep depression known as Christ’s Valley.


View from the southwest end of the island out over the lighthouse to the
Washerwoman Rock

Image: Tourism Ireland


Great Skellig is clear of danger save for Washerwoman Rock, 1.8 metres high, which lies 600 metres southwestward of the islet where the lighthouse stands. About 100 metres off its north end there are two sunken rocks.


Little Skellig as seen from the west
Image: Tourism Ireland


Little Skellig lies about 1.3 miles east by northeast of Great Skellig. It is 130 metres high and is similar in profile to Great Skellig and about half its size. A rock lies less than 90 metres from its south side. Lemon Rock, 21 metres high, lies about 2.2 miles to the northeast of Little Skellig, and about midway between it and Puffin Island.


Passing south of Little Skellig
Image: Tourism Ireland


During the bleeding period, Little Skelli's precipices are home to the second-largest colony of North Atlantic gannets in the world and, in a few places, by kittiwakes. During this period Little Skellig appears to be show capped as its head turns white thanks to the guano deposited by the numerous sea birds.


Great Skellig's two lighthouses with the upper left now disused
Image: Tourism Ireland


Convergance Point Vessels approaching from any direction will find both islands are set in deep water and highly conspicuous. Great Skellig has a 12-metre white tower lighthouse on its southwest extremity, plus there are the remains of a disused lighthouse situated about 200 metres to the northwest upon the island's western side.

Skelligs Lighthouse - Fl (3) 15s - position: 51° 46.108’N, 010° 32.519’W


The pathway rising up the ravine is a good marker for the quay
Image: Stinglehammer via CC ASA 4 (2)


Initial fix location From the initial fix the Blind Man’s Cove landing area should be seen on the northeast tip of the island. It is a small gut on the east side of Great Skellig, about 200 metres southward of the north point of the island and looking across to the Little Skellig. The telltale pathway which rises up through the ravine to the summit above the quay usually makes it obvious.


The quay in Blind Man’s Cove making itself known
Image: Stinglehammer via CC ASA 4.0


Haven location The 16 metres long concrete quay is located in the inner southeastern side of the gut. It has deep water so that it may be used at all stages of the tide by leisure craft. But it is narrow with only 8 metres from the opposite sheer rock face.


Launch alongside the quay in Blind Man's Cove
Image: Allie Caulfield via CC BY-SA 2.0


Technically it is possible, in an auspicious settled weather window, with the quay available, to drop off a shore party on the quay. Those intending on doing that should come prepared with large fenders and a solid warp, nose in and then exit stern first.


Tourist launch off of Blind Man's Cove awaiting space to berth
Image: Stinglehammer via CC ASA 4.0


However, even at the best of times, there is nearly always a swell and as it surges back out of the cave at the head of the cove it complicates a landing. Worse, as it surges and barrels around the confines of the cove the unsettled waters bring with it the constant worry that the spreaders will roll over and strike the opposite cliff wall. Also, the tourist launches queue to land all day and any quay time would be obstructing their operations except for very early, or very late, in the long summer days. So it is really not worth the stress.


Launches approaching and standing off as seen from the ascent from the pier
Image: Tourism Ireland


The best way to land is by tender standing the yacht off hove-too as it is too deep to anchor. As a result, landing requires some planning as those staying behind with the yacht will have a long wait for the shore party to reach the monastic settlement and return. So it would be best to be sure of the extended weather window.

Even landing by tender can present a challenge due to the churning surge. The bottom step just covers at Low Water Neaps so landing is very difficult to come up around Low Water Springs. Also a tender will have to stand off we the tourist launches are alongside the landing steps. These vessels are limited to 12 people and tend to occupy the landing area for about 20 mins when setting down/collecting from the quay.

Another dinghy landing point is in the deep bay, called Blue Cove, on the northwest side of the island. A disused pathway exists here that leads up to Christ's Saddle where it then connects to the pathways around the main part of the island. These steps are reportedly only usable at high water and the current state of the path is unknown. It is said that the island controlling authorities are planning to improve this path to provide some flexibility of access.


The two lighthouses of Great Skellig as seen from seaward
Image: Tourism Ireland


Those who do not land should take the opportunity to circumnavigate the island as it does provide spectacular scenery. It is possible to pass between the Washerwoman Rock, 600 metres southwest of the island, and the island.


Why visit here?
Great Skellig, also known as Skellig Michael, takes its name from the Irish name 'Sceilig Mhichíl'. In the Irish language 'sceilg' means a rock, particularly a steep rock, and so it means 'Michael's rock'. The name 'Michael' came from its monastic settlement that was dedicated to St Michael, sometime in the 10th-Century.

The Skelligs mystic appearance make them a thing of lore, past and present
Image: Tourism Ireland


Today Great Skellig is renowned for being the most spectacularly situated and well preserved of all the early medieval island monastic sites in Ireland. But its mention reached back much further into ancient Irish folklore too. The earliest reference found dates back to around 1400 BC. A poem tells the tale of how the Tuatha De Danann caused the invader, Milesius, to shipwreck in the area during the landing of the Milesians. Legend has it was on Great Skellig that Ir was buried, the drowned son of Milesius.


Towering Great Skellig
Image: Tourism Ireland


A reference, from circa 200 AD, says that Daire Domhain, 'King of the World', rested here before an epic year-and-a-day battle against Fionn Mac Cool and the Fianna. It is also recorded that during a 5th-Century episode of strife, between the kings of West Munster and the kings of Cashel, Duagh, king of West Munster, was said to have 'fled to Scellecc'. But there was no reference to a monastic settlement in existence on the island at this time.


Monastic settlement of Great Skellig on the northeast peak
Image: Tourism Ireland


This is unfortunate as the date of the first monastic has not yet been entirely determined. It was certainly about half a millennium before the aforementioned dedication to St Michael that occurred between AD 950 and 1044. Historical notes refer to the monastery being founded by St Fionán a significant South Kerry saint who lived in the 6th-Century and founded Innisfallen Abbey. The first definite reference to monks on the Skelligs comes from the Annals of Inisfallen under the year AD 824 and in the Annals of Ulster. It gave an account of the plunder of the monastery by the Vikings and to the death of 'Flann, son of Cellach, abbot of Scelec'. 'In 824 AD Scelec was plundered by the heathens and Étgal was carried off into captivity, and he died of hunger on their hands'.


The monastic enclosure of Sceilg Mhichíl
Image: Tourism Ireland


It is however broadly taken that Great Skellig had its monastery founded in the 6th-Century. From this point onward the history of Skellig is very much a Christian one. For about 600 years this remote island was a place of solitude and refuge for about 12 monks plus an abbot who lived in stone 'beehive' huts or in Irish 'clochans'. Their isolated monastery perched on a ledge 218 metres above sea level, reached only by a perilous stairway that ascended originally from the sea on the eastern side of the island. It was said that the monks were self-sufficient, trading eggs, feathers and seal meat with passing boats in return for cereals, tools and animal skin but that was not entirely the case.


Steps on Great Skellig
Image: Tourism Ireland


It was noted in Giraldus Cambrensis' 12th-Century 'The History and Topography of Ireland' that there was a miraculous supply of communal wine for daily mass available in a stone outside the door of St Michael’s Church. The note implied that the monastery was constantly occupied at the time and the monks well supplied. This supply line came from the extensive lands that belonged to the colony around Ballinskelligs Bay. So it should be noted that this was not a peripheral island monastery, but an outpost of Ballinskelligs and other mainland church territories, situated on the important west coast seaways.


The Skelligs as seen over the southern entrance to Ballinskelligs Bay
Image: Tourism Ireland


Eventually the community of 'Sceilg Mhichíl' would move back to Ballinskelligs and construct a new Augustinian Abbey, dedicated to St Michael overlooking the bay. This happened in the early 13th-Century after a general climatic deterioration that resulted in colder weather and increasing storms that forced the monks to retreat to the mainland.


View out from the monasteries inner enclosure
Image: Tourism Ireland


But the increasingly inhospitable change of the environment was not the only factor. There was also a shift in the Irish church from a monastic to a diocesan structure that signalled the end of Irish eremitic island colonies. The move was most likely not a single event either, but a transition likely to have happened over a period of time. After the monks settled into the new priory 'Sceilg Mhichíl' would have continued to be used as a dependency of the shore-based priory and the island monastery would have been occupied by some monks during the summer months.


The eastern end of the monastery
Image: Tourism Ireland


For centuries after this, the Augustinians maintained the structures on the island and actively promoted and managed pilgrimages to it as a penance. Legend has it that whilst on the island the Christian pilgrims would edge out onto a ledge to kiss a precariously positioned stone cross that has since toppled into the ocean.


Early Christian Cross Great Skellig
Image: Tourism Ireland


The Augustinian monks owned the island up until 1578, when, as a result of the Desmond Rebellions, Elizabeth I dissolved certain monasteries that were under the protection of the Earl of Desmond. The Skelligs then fell into secular hands and were eventually passed to the Butler family.


Little Skellig as seen from the hermitage
Image: David via CC BY 2.0
In the early 1820s, the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin (the predecessor of Commissioner of Irish Lights) acquired the island under a compulsory purchase order for the purpose of erecting its two lighthouses.

It was believed that two lights were necessary to avoid confusion with the single light then on Cape Clear to the southeast. These were established and linked by a remarkable road cut into the rock along the southern edge of the island that leads to the Blind Man's Pier.

In 1826 both lighthouses went into use, with their fixed lights lit for the first time. The upper light could be seen from 25 miles away, while the lower light had a range of 18 miles.


The Upper Lighthouse went out of use in 1870, when a new lighthouse was built on Inishtearaght, 22 miles to the north of the Skelligs. A new tower and light came into operation on the lower light in 1967. In 1989 the State purchased the island from the Commissioners of Irish Lights, with the exception of the working lighthouse and ancillary areas.


The two lighthouses either side of Seal Cove
Image: Tourism Ireland


With such an intact Christian monastery, Great Skellig became designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The smaller of the two islands, Little Skellig or Sceilig Bheag in Irish, is a nature reserve that is closed to the public. Playing host to almost 30,000 pairs of Northern Gannets it is Ireland's largest and the world's second-largest colony.


Northern Gannets on Little Skellig
Image: Tourism Ireland


The island's outstanding appearance has recently been introduced to the world via the Star Wars series. Skellig Michael featured in the final scene of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and was the central location for the following film in the series, 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'. In the latter movie, the remains of the Skellig Michael monastery appear in the film, representing an ancient Jedi temple.

Great Skellig Puffin
Image: Tourism Ireland


Today Skellig Michael's amazing well-preserved Christian monastic settlement perched on a ledge close to the top of the island is a major tourist attraction. The monastery is enclosed by a drystone wall, solid and unbroken after fourteen centuries of winter gales and early Viking ravages. The extreme remoteness of Skellig Michael has left the site exceptionally well preserved.


Needles Eye
Image: Tourism Ireland


Here the very Spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrate the ascetic lifestyle practised by early Irish Christians can be experienced at first hand. The island's oratory, cemeteries, churches, holy wells and stone crosses can all be seen as they were. Well worth seeing is Needles Eye, the highest peak, which rises from the northwest part of the islet; between it and the east elevated part is a deep depression known as Christ's Valley. The island also provides a sanctuary to extensive birdlife that can be experienced along the way.


Using one of the island's tourist launches may be
the easiest way for the whole crew to visit

Image: Tourism Ireland


From a boating perspective, it truly is a unique experience to sail up to this floating pyramid. 'Magic that takes you out, far out, of this time and this world’ is what George Bernard Shaw, said of his impression of the Skelligs when he visited in 1910. And the experience of the Skelligs are just as he saw them today, if a lot better ashore thanks to the restoration work carried out today by the OPW. It truly is a magical place that is, to the largest part, a reserve for boaters and an experience that should not be missed by a passing cruiser in a lifetime. The easiest way is to explore the island itself may be to moor in Derrynane, Ballinskelligs or Portmagee and for the entire crew to take a tourist launch out to explore it on foot.


What facilities are available?
Apart from the landing pier there are no facilities of any kind such as shops or toilets. Despite what literature may suggest there is definitively no drinking water as the islands many wells are disused and unclean.


Any security concerns?
You should not leave the boat unattended for seagoing reasons.


With thanks to:
Burke Corbett, Gusserane, New Ross, Co. Wexford.







Skellig Island aerial overviews




Star Wars Island Overview



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