I'm reading an excellent book titled "Sun Dancing" (A vision of Medieval Ireland) by Geoffrey Moorehouse. It begins with the establishment of a monastery on "Skellig Michael" in the sixth century by Saint Finnian (Fionan). While many monasteries put down their roots in the early medieval period, few chose to live in such an inhospitable place. And although it was only about 12 km from County Kerry...it was 12 km out to sea....where wind, wave and storm could make it impossible to land any kind of watercraft for weeks at a time. And a place where the monks depended upon regular deliveries to survive.
The monastery was continuously occupied until the 12th century when no one knows for sure why it was shut down.
It is hard to imagine the early Christian monks leading what had to have been an extraordinarily spartan day to day existence here – to say that life would have been harsh for them is truly an understatement. Their huts, in the shape of beehives and called clochans, indicate the bareness of life on the rock.
These monks would have left all of their earthly possessions to come and live here. Which must have made it a lonesome existence, despite the faith which initiated their decision to move here.
The monastery itself was terraced (a necessity because of the sheer sides of the rock). Three flights of stairs (perhaps reflecting the Holy Trinity) lead up to Christ’s Valley (shown above) which is the small depression between the peaks of Skellig Michael.
There are many of the things you would expect to find along with the huts...a church, a vegetable garden, graves and a large cross...Legend has it the St. Fionan and the small group that went with him allowed the Hand of God to use the wind and the waves to take them to this remote outpost...what faith! As if a rock in the Atlantic was not isolated enough, this extreme retreat afforded those monks who wished to contemplate the Divine in complete isolation the opportunity to do so.
No one truly knows the real reason it was abandoned but in their leaving, the monastery has been preserved for future generations. Only a hand full of tourists are allowed to visit each year to maintain the pristine state of this UNESCO sight.. and although most of us will probably never see it in person, there are a couple of websites that tell the story....
The Skellig Experience