12km southwest of Valentia Island, County Kerry, lies the Skellig Islands. Skellig Michael is known in the world of archaeology as the site of a well preserved monastic outpost of the Early Christian period and one of the best examples in Europe. In 1993 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Over one thousand four hundred years ago a small group of monks were searching for a place to practice their religion in solitude and isolation. They ventured to Skellig Michael and built a monastery. The Small Skellig is renowned in matters of ornithology as the home of 27,000 pairs of gannets, the second largest colony of these seabirds in the world.
Skellig Michael is the site of an old Irish monastery. It is one of the most famous and impressive sites from the ancient christian world which can still be seen today in its original and true form. It is a monastic site sitting on the top of a rock in the middle of the wild Atlantic Ocean.
The site represents an Irish expression of the Christian search for solitude, a solitude they believed would bring them closer to God. In the sixth or seventh century when this site was founded it must indeed have been a solitary place. The monastery and associated buildings the monks founded on Skellig were occupied for over 600 years after its initial establishment.
There is no documentary evidence available to define exactly who or when the site was founded but tradition affords its creation to St. Fionan and it was most probably built around the sixth century. The site was attacked on a number of occasions by Vikings since its establishment the first recorded instance being in 824. Sometime in the mid tenth century the monastery was dedicated to St. Michael. It was abandoned by the thirteenth century but still seems to have been used by the monks (who settled in nearby Ballinskelligs on the mainland) as a place of pilgrimage for centuries to follow. During this period it seems likely from the evidence available that they continued to maintain the structures on the island. It is most probable that they left Skellig for the winter months and returned to the mainland only occupying the monastery for pilgrimage during the summer months.