Skellig Michael (from Sceilig Mhichíl in Irish, meaning Michael’s rock), also known as Great Skellig, is a steep rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean about 9 miles (14.5 kilometres) from the coast of County Kerry. It is the larger of the two Skellig Islands.
After probably being founded in the 7th century, for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. The Gaelic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe’s better known, but least accessible monasteries. Since the extreme remoteness of Skellig Michael has until recently discouraged visitors, the site is exceptionally well preserved. The very spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrate the ascetic lifestyle practiced by early Irish Christians. The monks lived in stone ‘beehive’ huts (clochans), perched above nearly vertical cliff walls.
This terraced monastic site was originally approached by three flights of vertiginous steps, leading from different landing places, which met at Christ’s Valley, the saddle between the peaks. The modern path to the lighthouse meets the southern flight of steps. The monastery comprises six intact clochans, two oratories, 31 early grave slabs, a monolithic cross and the 13th century church of St Michael. The dry-stone walls of the clochans are almost 2m thick, square in plan, with circular roofs. Most have wall recesses but no windows. The two largest have projecting corbels inside and out that were used for securing thatch or stopping sods from slipping. The oratories have windows and the smaller one is built on an artificial platform. To the west of the steps leading up to the monastic buildings are two cross-slabs with a blocked souterrain between them. In the massive wall south of the souterrain is a latrine, probably mediaeval, over a deep cleft in the rock. The outer and inner walls are continuous and form a narrow oval enclosure whose north-eastern part is the Monk’s Garden.
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