Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Rey's Guide to Skellig Michael (aka Star Wars Jedi Island)

When you look to the horizon from certain cliffs of County Kerry, you'll see two peaks jutting up from the sea.  On a stormy day (there are plenty of those in Ireland), they'll constantly be disappearing in the rain and mist, and you'll wonder if you just imagined the sight.

Oh, they're real - and they've obviously been capturing the imagination of humans throughout history.  Over a thousand years ago the first band of intrepid monks grew tired of just looking from the shore and established a remote monastery here which endured for centuries.  So when a new Star Wars film arrived in the world and Luke needed a jedi island to hide on, there's really only one place in the entire galaxy he'd escape to: SKELLIG MICHAEL.

Today's post is a review of our trip to Skellig Michael!  It will be a mix of tips and memories and Star Wars references. ;) As the one and only Poe Dameron said to Finn, "WE'RE GONNA DO THIS."

If you want to get to the Skelligs, you need to first go to the town of Portmagee, where you're going to catch a boat.  The boat ride to Skellig Michael is a solid 1.5-2hrs each way over very rough and choppy seas.  Waves as big as the boat on every side and in fact crashing inside the boat as well.  The boats are fishing boats so there aren't real seats, just an exposed wide square bench/platform in the center that everyone finds a spot on.  We were given ponchos but not life jackets.  I did bring a raincoat, but without the poncho I would've been soaked to the skin.

We had what I can only describe as a harrowing experience before the boat even departed.  If you're planning a trip to the Skelligs yourself the following may be useful, but if you prefer to preserve the illusion that everyone arrives at the jedi temple by starship, feel free to skip a bit.

A few general facts:

  • A boat ride to Skellig Michael costs 60 euro per person.
  • Boats leave 9-10am and get back 2-3pm. You'll have roughly two hours on the island.
  • My photos don't have many other people in them, but that's because I waited and timed my shots.  With 5-6 boats carrying 12 passengers each and a small island, it doesn't feel deserted like in The Force Awakens.  It is stunning, just know there will be plenty of fellow tourists around.
  • With many precipitous steps and ledges, this is a dangerous place to visit.  Many areas of the island were fenced off due to rock slides and there was scaffolding up as they work on repairs.  It's good to be aware of the risks and to exercise extra caution.

You defintely want to make a reservation online in advance - the boats were all fully booked the day we went out, and there were lots of people trying to get on the stand-by list.  We also planned several days in the area because when the weather is bad the boats won't go.  They didn't go our first morning when we originally had planned to do Skellig Michael, but we were able to go the second morning - I did make a provisional booking for the second day.

When we arrived at the docks in the morning, it was basically chaos.  It was difficult to identify which operator was which or which boat you would be on or when exactly it would leave.  We arrived on time and were seated in the boat, the other passengers arrived, and we all proceeded to wait...and wait.  We watched every other boat leave, no one came to tell us what was going on - our boat captain ended up being an hour late and then we waited a second hour on top of that because he was arguing with (and swearing at) some of the other passengers about their reservation.  It was a nightmare.

All I will say is do not book through your hotel - I also would not recommend Murphy Sea Cruises or some of the individual fishermen/captains.  The professional-looking websites/companies actually did seem to have professional-looking captains piloting their boats and from what I could see from a distance seemed to be more organized, but do your research and whatever you do, book directly through your boat operator and even then prepare yourself for some shuffle and confusion and of course sea sickness.  That boat ride out is really not fun.  I had to sit for a minute and wait for the world to stop swimming once we reached the Skellig.  I almost couldn't believe it when we actually started to explore the island...


The dirt on my face might be from the greasy ponchos on the boat or maybe I was working on the hyperdrive, so it's just a little dust from the Falcon...

Steps leading straight up into the sky!  I had read about the 600 steps to get to the monastery at the top, but it honestly wasn't that bad.  Maybe it was because I was so hyped up at actually being on Skellig Michael or because we'd been climbing steps all over England and Ireland for the week prior?    Maybe it was the Force?? You do reach a grassy slope (Luke Skywalker's slope!) about 2/3 of the way up where we rested for a little bit before finishing the climb.  The guide at the bottom recommended allowing 30-45 minutes to get down and said that if you were feeling dizzy, you should come down sitting, step by step - apparently people do it everyday!

Just one more Skellig tip/fyi - most literature will advise you to bring lunch.  I would say eat a good breakfast and just bring water and a light snack - with only two hours to explore, you won't have much time to eat, you won't want to be lugging around a picnic, and after that boat ride your stomach probably won't be feeling up to much.  And don't drink too much water - there aren't any bathrooms on the island.  Ok now back to the fun stuff. :)

Those steps were seriously so epic.  And every so often out from under one of them would pop...

A puffin!  These guys were so sweet, and with their bright beaks and webbed feet they looked nothing like the birds you'd typically find in your backyard.  They nest right in the rocks, in crevices you wouldn't think they could even fit in.  The puffins were all over the place in June, waddling right by you, paying no attention to the tourists and just going about their business like they own the place...which I guess they do!

Looking back at these photos, it astonishes me again how indomitable the monks must have been who made this rock jutting out of the sea their home.  Talk about jedi masters.

I know there's going to be plenty of Star Wars geeking out in this post, but the *real* history of Skellig Michael is just as amazing as TFA.  From the 6th to the 12th century monks fought to make a living out of rock and sea on the edge of the world.

The monastery, while austere, also felt lived-in and lovingly crafted, like a small, snug village.

The stone huts were obviously well-constructed to keep the weather out - you had to go up a few steps when you first entered.  I imagine when the wind and rain whipped in at the front door they were stopped by the steps and didn't get up to the main space.  Do you see how black it is inside?  Not a chink of light getting through.  It felt larger than I would have guessed inside.

We don't even know the names of the monks who established and lived on Skellig Michael, but we don't need to.  The awe-inspiring monastery they left was legacy enough.

From the monastery you could look down at the steps on the other side of the island which were not open to the public but were featured in the movie.  Speaking of which...

...once we got back down to that grassy slope I mentioned, I had to grab a few more pictures...

Look familiar?? It will if you've rewatched the Skellig Michael scene of The Force Awakens as many times as I have...lol...I wanted to be able to recreate as many shots as possible...

...which is how this happened. ;)

Come at me Kylo, I'm ready.  And of course I needed to channel Rey in my outfit!  My mom and I put it together - I kinda want to wear that vest all the time now...

You know this photo had to happen.  I was not the only visitor that day who brought Luke's lightsaber to Skellig Michael...we saw at least one other group taking this pic! ;)

All too soon it was time to head back down to the boat.  See the little skellig in the distance in the photo?  Boats don't dock there, although the birds love it - every available outcropping on the little skellig seemed to have a sea bird sitting on it. Our boat captain did take us around by the little skellig to let us get a better look on the ride back.

I had not been looking forward to the ride back, but it wasn't as bad as the ride there.  I got a seat at the back of the boat and kept my eyes fixed on the Skelligs as they faded into the distance - I think it helped to have something solid to focus on.

See the monastery way at the top?  Just incredible.

While getting there was certainly not a piece of cake, I would not have missed Skellig Michael for anything. I can't wait until the new Star Wars movie comes out (there are going to be more Skelligs scenes!) so we can relive our trip to the jedi island all over again!


  1. Kid, I've been from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I've seen a lot of cool stuff, but I've never seen *anything* as cool as Skellig Michael! Way to bring the Force!

  2. Looks amazing! I had no idea what you had to go through to get there! Your pictures were great and I'm sure all that gorgeous scenery plus the fact that TFA was filmed there made it all worth it!

  3. Oh. My. Goodness.
    I would definitely try to recreate that scene as well. Fangirling aside, this island is gorgeous! I mean what a magical place!