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The Big Zeroes

watch us go from zeroes to heroes

Skellig Michael is the largest of the Skellig islands, which lie off the coast of Kerry and is the site of a 6th century monastic settlement, which is now a World Heritage Site. 

I’ve had a yen to go there for some time now, but it’s not an easy place to get to.  Trips to the island are dependent on weather and tidal conditions, and are also restricted in an effort to lessen the human impact on the site.  Only thirteen boats are licensed to take visitors to the island, and each boat is only permitted to make one landing per day.  As the landing place is small, only little fishing boats can get close enough, which further restricts numbers of visitors.  There had been very few trips out to the island this year because it has been such a bad summer, and as I was only staying in this part of Kerry for one day, my chances of getting there didn’t look great.

However, I got lucky.  Boats were going out for the first time in days, though there was only a fifty/fifty chance of making a landing on the island.

Now I’m not a boat person. In fact, saying I’m not a boat person is a bit like Superman saying he’s not much of a one for kryptonite.  So I was cursing my luck as I found myself tossing around on the Atlantic in this tiny boat, with water crashing in over the sides, the horizon regularly disappearing behind huge swells, and passengers passing a bucket around to puke into.  It was terrifying!  I felt like I was going to be thrown out of the boat, or like it would overturn at any moment.  The boatmen, however, appeared incredibly calm – maybe even a little bored – which was somewhat reassuring.  And they obviously didn’t think we needed the lifejackets I saw stowed neatly in the cabin (‘cabin’ might not be the right word –I’m not a boat person).  Still, I had visions of myself clinging to a piece of wood in the middle of the ocean in the manner of Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic.  No, hang on, not Leo – Kate.  She was the one who survived, right?  I would cling to my piece of flotsam in the manner of Kate Winslet while awaiting rescue.  I had it all planned out.

However, after a white-knuckle, hair-raising, bum-clenching, and lose-your-breakfast-defying hour on the waves (well, for me – some passengers did lose their breakfast), we made it to the island.  To everyone’s huge relief we were able to land and I stepped, shaking and queasy, onto Skellig Michael.

On the island there’s a walk up some 600-odd steps cut into the cliff to the monastic site at the top.  The climb isn’t too strenuous if you’re reasonably fit – especially when you’re buoyed up by the sheer joy of being alive having survived the boat trip.  It is vertiginous, though, and very precarious – in some places it’s a mere slip away from a sheer drop over the cliff.  The monks’ stone beehive huts are remarkably well preserved, and I considered the possibility of taking up residence in one rather than getting back on the boat.

It was worth the agony of getting there, though.  It’s an extraordinary place and stunningly beautiful.  On the way back we went by Small Skellig, which has the second largest gannet colony in the world.  Every ledge of the rock was covered in the birds, and it’s an amazing sight. 

I took masses of photos as I doubt I’ll ever be back.  It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but one I’m very glad to have had.

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