A part of Ireland that is out of this world
Skellig Michael is one of our most magnificent natural landmarks and now this striking-looking island off the Kerry coast is set to enjoy worldwide fame thanks to its appearance in the most eagerly awaited film of the decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Once described by George Bernard Shaw as an “incredible, impossible, mad place” that's “part of our dream world”, this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way, the 2,500km route that takes in the most spectacular scenery of our Western seaboard.
Let its new-found Hollywood celebrity kick-start a voyage of discovery of Kerry and its Iveragh Peninsula - whether the Force is with you, or not.
How to get there
The island is located 12km out to sea from Portmagee and boats go to Skellig Michael from this fishing harbour - and from Ballinskelligs and Caherdaniel - between May and October, weather permitting. Booking ahead is strongly advised. The journey takes roughly an hour and brings you to a unique place that will deliver unique memories to last a lifetime.
Climb the 618 winding steps that are almost 1,500 years old and arrive at the monastic hermitage last inhabited in the 13th century. Visit the tiny ‘beehive' cells where the monks slept and pause for a moment of reflection at the cemetery with its 22 grave slabs. The ancient settlers even managed to eke out a walled garden on this rocky outcrop.
There's so much history to explore, but keep an eye out for the island's large colony of brightly billed puffins and the significant population of gannets. It's a bird-watcher's paradise.
The Skellig Experience Visitor Centre near the bridge on Valentia Island provides a first-class exhibition, that's worth investigating before - or after - your trip to Skellig Michael.
If you are unable to make the journey to Skellig Michael you can still admire it from the Kerry mainland. Its jagged, pyramidal shape retains a mysterious aura when viewed from a distance and the Wild Atlantic Way provides innumerable opportunities.
Journey along the Skellig Ring, which skirts the coast, and take in the breathtaking views of Skellig Michael (also known as Great Skellig) and its equally striking neighbouring island, Little Skellig.
There are four Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Points which are spectacular in their own right and provide unrivalled views of the Skelligs: Bray Head, with its 200-year-old watch tower; Kerry Cliffs, with their sheer drop into the ocean below; Coommanaspic, an area of high ground especially popular with intrepid cyclists, and Geokaun Mountain, one of the highest points in the area.
The latter, on Valentia Island, has a peak that can be accessed by car and as its summit boasts pleasant walking trails and picnic spots, it's a glorious refuge for all. And those Skelligs views? Amazing.
Things to do
The Iveragh Peninsula is paradise for nature lovers thanks to its magnificent lakes, woodlands, sandy beaches and sheer cliffs. It's here that you'll find Ireland's highest peak, Carrantuohill, and mountaineers from Kerry Climbing are available to guide you to the top.
It is also home to the only Gold-Tiered Dark-Sky Reserve in the northern hemisphere. Taking in an area from Kells to Caherdaniel, and including towns and villages such as Cahersiveen, Waterville, Ballinskelligs and Valentia Island, it offers an opportunity to admire the wonders of the night sky unsullied by artificial lighting.
Visitors keen to explore the area on two wheels can either rent bicycles from Casey's in Cahersiveen, or if it's something zippier you are looking for, the Killarney-based Lemonrock Bike Tours provide premium BMW motorcycles for those who have had a bike licence for more than two years.
Those who crave a less active experience should visit the Skellig Chocolate Factory where you can see the confections being made in the state-of-the-art facility. The hot chocolate served in its cafe has become celebrated in the area - a perfect treat to stave off the winter chill.
Where to eat and drink
The south-western corner of The Kingdom is justly renowned for its remarkable selection of quality restaurants and atmospheric pubs. They come from miles around to experience the fine seafood cuisine at The Moorings in Portmagee.
Portmagee's Bridge Bar is a former winner of a Restaurants Association of Ireland gastro-pub award and it was here during the summer shoot on Skellig Michael that Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, pulled pints of beer for the locals.
If it's a tasty light snack you're after, the Knightstown coffee shop and bistro and Pod Creperie are two appealing options in Knightstown, just up the road from Portmagee.
You're also spoiled for choice in nearby Caherdaniel: The Blind Piper pub is as celebrated for its fish chowder as it is for its pints. And, in Cahersiveen, QC's Seafood Bar & Restaurant will sate the appetites of hungry visitors.
A visit to Skellig Michael, or the coast around Portmagee and Valentia Island, offers a perfect opportunity to drive a stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way and take in such unforgettable sights as the golden stretch of Rossbeigh Beach and visitor experiences like Derrynane House, the birthplace of Ireland's Liberator, Daniel O'Connell.
A stop-off at Waterville is a must for outdoor enthusiasts as it boasts two world class golf courses, some of the best salmon and sea trout angling in Europe and a base for cyclists and walkers who want to explore the magnificent Ballinskelligs Bay.
The town is closely associated with Charlie Chaplin and a restorative tea-break at the Butler Arms Hotel is a must: the great comic star of the Silent Age used to be a regular here.
Story by entertainment.ie | 12:28 | Monday 21st December 2015 | Escapes