The Hardcore Monks of Skellig Michael

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
March 25 2014 10:19 AM

Skellig Michael: Treacherous Rocks, Hardcore Monks, and Adorable Puffins

skellig1
Little Skellig viewed from the beehive huts of Skellig Michael.

Photo: Arian Zwegers/Creative Commons

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

The dozen monks who sequestered themselves on this rocky island in the seventh century were a hardy lot. Skellig Michael — "skellig," derived from the Irish word sceillic, means "steep rock" — lies eight miles from the coast of County Kerry. It is beset by wind and rain, which make the ascent to its 714-foot-high peak extra treacherous.

Despite these conditions, a group of determined Irish Christians established a monastic outpost on the island that remains largely intact 1,400 years later. Using stones, the monks built hundreds of stairs leading up to Skellig Michael's summit, where they erected six beehive-shaped stone huts and a small chapel.

Advertisement

Surviving on a diet of fish, seabirds, and vegetables grown in the monastery garden, monks occupied Skellig Michael continuously until the late 12th century, when a worsening climate and more frequent storms sent them back to the mainland. The settlement survived multiple Viking raids during the ninth century.

Climbing the 670 steep, uneven steps to the top presents both a physical and mental challenge, but crowds of puffins and other seabirds are there to cheer you on. At the summit you can enter the monastic huts and imagine the grueling life of a seventh-century ascetic.

Rocky island highs:


View Great Skellig in a larger map

Ella Morton is a writer working on The Atlas Obscura, a book about global wonders, curiosities, and esoterica adapted from Atlas Obscura. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 23 2014 10:30 AM Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 8:51 AM The Male-Dominated Culture of Business in Tech Is Not Great for Women
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 9:00 AM Exclusive Premiere: Key & Peele Imagines the Dark Side of the Make-A-Wish Program
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.