A lifetime ago, so long ago it may as well have been in another Galaxy, Ireland was our destination. Long before Star Wars arrived in this tiny corner of southern Ireland we were diving. The rocks of Skellig Michael and Little Skellig beckoned each day, deceptive in their proximity to the coast of Kerry. 13km from Bolus Head the journey was rough, some days wishing we could die, just to get away from the nausea inducing roll of the dive boat. However, all that was forgotten as the mountainous cliffs of the islands came into view. The sea birds screeching, rolling and diving through the air. Their isolated home, invaded momentarily as we prepared to descend into the cold but spectacular waters below.
This visit was before this stunning landscape was known about outside of the diving community and lovers of the remote and wild Irish landscapes had it as their own little secret. In 1996 however, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. A remote Christian monastery, perched 218m above a boiling sea, one of the most extreme locations in the Christian world. The beehive cells, the home of hermits in medieval times remain along with the shell of the monastery, a reminder of the dedication to their beliefs these men had. Not for the the feint of heart, the climb from the sea to the cells and monastery is steep and exposed. 600 steps wind along the edge of the sheer cliff face, vertigo inducing even for those with a sure foot.
Later, the island became one of many filming locations for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a whole different religion, but now a site of pilgrimage for those who hold these modern day stories close to their hearts.
These two small islands are magical, perfectly summarised by George Bernard Shaw - “The most fantastic and impossible rock in the world: Skellig Michael…where in south west gales the spray knocks stones out of the lighthouse keeper’s house…the Skelligs are pinnacled, crocketed, spired, arched, caverned, minaretted; and these gothic extravagances are not curiosities of the islands: they are the islands: there is nothing else. The rest of the cathedral may be under the sea for all I know…An incredible, impossible, mad place…I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world.”
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