The Skellig Islands
The Skelligs are made up of two rock boulder islands, as you sail towards them, the first named, "Small Skellig" is a bird sanctuary, and untouched by humans. The second island Skellig Michael, is once a monastery for 12th century monks and the location of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars', the Last Jedi. Skellig Michael, which I sailed to, is made up of giant peaks and one massive rock stairwell that twists as you ascend and descend, seemingly endless, a stairway to heaven. It is also rampant with puffins, who are just about the cutest little birds you ever saw, thousands of them in every corner. When you get to the top of the stairs you arrive at a small community of dome limestone huts where the monks in 1100 AD lived and where, in the film, the Jedi religion is based. I hiked around to all sides of the island, and once at the top removed all my layers and sat in my t-shirt; body content, mind clear.
DO. MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU
However, before you enjoy the sites you need to get there first. As I described in the Valentia Island Chapter, my first boat trip was cancelled due to the weather. The Skelligs are ROCKs in them middle of the ATLANTIC OCEAN, it is incredibly difficult to get to, and even when you pass through the torrential storms which you must pass through on the "path to enlightenment", the boat still needs the correct tides to dock. Therefore, even if you book months in advance with the fisherman, they can still cancel the day of. Luckily, I was made a deckhand on John's boat and eagerly awaited my duties and the adventure of a lifetime. Anthea’s niece dropped me off at the port and wished me luck, I had no rain jacket and felt absurd and unprepared with only a few thin layers and an army vest. Everyone around me seemed over-prepared, and dressed as if in some neon EDM Gortex tribe, all with zippers and hoods and secret compartments, it didn’t match the scenery at all in my opinion. However, I did begin to fear for my warmth and potential to catch pneumonia.
LIST OF FISHERMAN
John O'Shea, Caherdaniel, 087 689-8431 (my fisherman)
Timothy Casey, Portmagee, 087 142-7137; 087 958-2198
Fionan Murphy, Valentia, 087 2809861, 066 947-6883
Paul Devane, Portmagee, 087 617-8114
Gearoid Moran, Portmagee, 066-9477108
Donal MacCrohan, Valentia, 087 239-9741
Seanie Murphy, Valentia, 087 236-2344
Dermot J Walsh, Valentia, 086 833-9549
Brendan Casey, Caherciveen, 087 450-1211
Michael B Casey, Portmagee, 087 695-0300
David Walsh, Ballinskelligs, 087 238-5610
Nealie Lyne, Valentia, 087 687-1261
James Duff, Valentia, 087 464-5824
Patrick Murphy, Portmagee, 087 234-2168, 087 676-2983
Michael O'Sullivan, Waterville, 066 947-4800
Finally, the boat arrived to pick us all up and I smiled into John’s bright blue eyes and introduced myself as Emilie, his deckhand! He smiled back and his four dogs circled and trotted around the boat as passengers boarded. I hopped on the boat and in my best efforts at my new job, even if temporary, observed all corners of the vessel, reviewed the people and watched as John brought forth humongous fisherman raincoats and pants to go over everyone’s clothes. I jumped up and began passing them out to all the guests. John then had me untie the ropes and pull up the buoys. He nodded and pointed left and right as I scurried around and popped up on either side of the boat completing these tasks, ready to embark! Everyone on the boat assumed I was his daily, professional deckhand and it was thrilling to live this pirate of a lie.
John informed every one of the Rules of Sea-Sickness, “First ya stand up if that doesn’t work, lie down and close your eyes. The stomach begins to hurt because you are sitting down and scrunching your organs, standing up releases the pressure, oh, and if you have to use the toilet please do not slam the door.” However, no one could be prepared for the two-hour raging rainstorm ride in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It felt like a scene from a silent film. The boat tilted from side to side as sick passengers flung from corner to corner running to the bathroom and slamming the door.
When I closed my eyes the whole world caved in with it and I wasn't burdened by nausea. My body went limp and I allowed the rocking of the boat to flow through me rather than hit me. After about twenty minutes I felt the warmth of the sun on my face and a light spray of ocean on my eyelashes. I peeled open one eye which fluttered and shut as a strong sun beam flooded my perspective, the blue of the sea was robust and cheerful and there, in front of me, stood a giant rock.
This was the smaller of the two islands, Small Skellig, bird sanctuary and a pinnacle of significance. The thing with sights like these, you would think it otherworldly, from another time or fantasy, but it wasn't. It stood for itself, solid. A monolith rising from the depths of the truest bluest ocean. Monks had settled on these rocks in the twelfth century to be closer to God and away from civilization. It was one of the most treacherous arrivals I have ever endured, many men back then must have died in pursuit. As soon as the first grey island began to hover over us the second and bigger of the two appeared, "Skellig Michael." The Island of rock was dusted with greenery.
As we grew closer to the green main island, I readjusted my stamina with the excitement of arrival to overcome my sea sickness. I look at John in amazement and removed my raincoat rubber suit that I had been sweating in due to nausea. All of the sudden the green grey rock was almost above us and I ran to the buoys to ready the boat and the group to dock. John asked me if I was able to, and I was. I leapt to my feat in preparation and he brought the boat in. I was the last to leave the boat. I stepped up the natural rock staircase and took my first foot forward on Skellig Michael. I looked up and peered up the rounded cliff trail which lay ahead. I had made it.
I passed the rounded trail and finally arrived at the foot of the path between the two rock pinnacles approaching the endless staircase which led to the sky. The first few steps were very steep and jagged and wet. I had read a story about American travellers falling to their death and on these stairs so was very mindful. I took a photo of a lovely family and the mother kindly offered to take a shot of me. I continued to ascend look down at where I had started, the sky was so blue and the wind was immaculately strong.
What comes next brings utter astonishment. To your right is a tower of rock peering down at you with a rock staircase which lasers down the middle of the natural structure, it must be at least 200 steps. I tried my best to contain my speed, and when I reached the top arrived at a stone igloo civilization which the monks created. I peered through different crevices, wandering a bit to find a seat facing the sun which was elevated on one of the structures.
I removed my vest, sweater (once cold was now feeling golden) and sat for at least seven minutes taking in the sun's rays and observing the territory from this vantage point. I'll never forget that feeling, the sun on my face, the stone, the blue blue Atlantic Ocean surrounding me, all of us, with only the Small Skellig in the distance, looking like CGI. But it wasn't CGI it was real and was so was every moment leading up to it and every moment to come. I cannot stress enough the beautiful miracles life brings us if we allow them too, and with that, the ability to sieze that miracle and ride the opportunity. When you let the wind push you to a point and then leaves for you the best part, the worst part, the scariest, happiest, most complete part, you jump, you partake, you trust, you live.
Still taking it all in, I descended the world's best staircase and hiked to the alternate rock face on the left hand side. One girl with a very kind face took a photo of me, for her own memories. I wondered if I would ever see her again. I descended this peak and sat in the middle, between the two structures with my back to the sun and looked out at the blue ocean beneath me. Slowly but surely tears poured from my face, feelings of joy and sadness as well as complete assurance it whatever life is.
The island is rampant with Puffins.
Puffins surrounded me, ( the island is rampant with puffins ) and comforted my tears like animal friends in a Disney movie. I thought of my Mom and my Dad and all the people I love. I also realized it was 1:40pm and I had no chance of making my 5pm flight, so I remained calm and decided to go with the flow. I retraced my steps from the journey up to the worlds end and trekked down the insufficient dock. Sat with my legs in front of me as I watched the fisherman come in to collect each group. John was last.
The girl who took my photo saw me from her boat. She smiled and waved, creating a knowing connection between us. A peace. A unity. Cynics be blind, for this is the truth. This is humanity. I sat by the waters edge and smiled at John and his pups as the boat drew near. The boat collected us and we embarked on the two hour journey to Cahiersdaniel. It stormed of course, and when we got back to the port I hugged John and thanked him for the trip of a lifetime.
I also had accepted my fate of returning to London the following day and was more at ease. I returned to Anthea's farmhouse who had a room waiting for me for the last night. This trip had taught me a valuable lesson in going with the flow. I extended my trip by three days due to waiting on the Skelligs. Some things are truly worth waiting for and if you aren't at ease with the obstacles and have the patience to withstand pressures of what you feel you should or ought to do, the road paves itself in front of you and you learn to walk it and take each step as it comes. I waited for each step and it led me to immaculate crisp blue skies on the island of Skellig Michael.