Skellig Michael has always been worth visiting – long before it became the setting for Luke Skywalker’s hideout in the most recent Star Wars trilogy. The monks who settled there in the 6th century AD knew Skellig Michael was worth visiting and tourists for decades have known it was worth visiting. But Star Wars has undoubtedly put this unique island on the map for hundreds of thousands of people who perhaps wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise, and any interest in Ireland always pleases the team here at Wild N Happy. We’ve received quite a few questions about Skellig Michael over the last few years, so we decided to create this helpful guide. We will explain how you can visit Skellig Michael, but we also answer a few other frequently asked questions about this incredible place. If anything here inspires you to book an experience with Wild N Happy, please check out our Ireland Tours and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
A Little Background History on Skellig Michael
From the outside, Skellig Michael does not look inviting at all. It is a jagged, wild rock jutting straight out of the sea, with no beaches or obvious gentle incline with which to arrive by boat. So this makes what the monks did in the 6th century AD even more impressive. Not only did they decide to live there — seeking isolation in order to be closer to God — they actually built a very structurally sound monastery, complete with many walls to shelter them from the harsh winds as well as steps to help them climb up and down this steep island. While some of these structures were built in the 6th century, historians believe that most of it was probably built in the early 11th century and that it was abandoned in the 13th century.
Visitors to Skellig Michael can walk into the well-preserved ruins of the monastery — something tourists only began to do in 1970 — so there were roughly eight centuries after the monks left where this ancient site was left completely isolated and untended. This is another reason why the monastery’s decent condition is so remarkable!
Visiting Skellig Michael
There are two different ways people usually visit Skellig Michael. Skellig Michael is difficult to sail to and people are only allowed there in limited numbers (and generally between April until the beginning of October); this is why many people choose simply to visit the island by boat but not to step on to the island. The advantage of this is that most of the best views of the island come from the outside looking in and you will also have enough time to visit Skellig Michael’s smaller sister island, Little Skellig, by boat. You can’t step on Little Skellig, but you can sail around it. While not as large or impressive as Skellig Michael, Little Skellig has a charm of its own.
The other way to visit Skellig Michael is to actually step out onto the island. As it’s a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is a big focus on conservation. This is why only 15 boat operators have the exclusive rights to bring guests to the island. Once there, you can climb the 600 steps to the ancient monastery. You will probably also see the island’s most famous residents: thousands of roosting puffins.
When Can you Visit Skellig Michael?
Generally, you catch a boat from Portmagee on the Iveragh Peninsula, just south of Valentia Island. As the sea is incredibly choppy in the winter months, it simply isn’t safe to attempt to land on the island at this time. This means that tourists have a 4- to 5-month window where they can visit Skellig Michael. Of course, this window changes depending on the weather each year, but the general expectation is that you can visit between April and October. So, if Skellig Michael is one of the main places you want to see on your Ireland trip, make sure to visit during those months.
Star Wars and Skellig Michael
While many people have visited this beautiful and strange Irish island each year since the 70s, it has become much more popular since it featured in the most recent Star Wars trilogy as an island on a distant planet that Luke Skywalker has exiled himself to in order to avoid the First Order. It’s strangely fitting that a Jedi master should choose this particular island for his hermitage as what are Jedi but a type of warrior monk, so the monastery at Skellig Michael is a fantastic fit for Luke.
Given Skellig Michael’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Ireland’s careful stewardship over the island, the Star Wars production crew were under strict supervision throughout their entire filming process. The good news is that the island was left exactly how the crew found it. The bad news is that Star Wars fans won’t find any remnants from the filming to ooh and aah over. However, fans of porgs — the films’ strange flying creatures — will still be pleased to find puffins on the island. Thousands of puffins roost in Skellig Michael each year, and because there were so too many to avoid during the filming, the films’ producers decided to use some clever CGI trickery to transform the familiar puffin into the weird and wonderful porg!
That’s all we have time for today. We hope you’ve found this short guide interesting and that it has encouraged a few readers sitting on the fence to finally start planning their trip to Skellig Michael. If you’d like some more inspiration, check out our day tours of Ireland and our longer Ireland tour packages. Your next big Ireland adventure could be just a few clicks away!