Luke Skywalker, where are you? I’ll answer later…

Skellig Michael (in back) and Little Skellig (foreground)

Skellig Michael, Ireland.

High above the Atlantic, on the westernmost edge of Europe, you can cast your eyes further westward across the chilly waters towards faraway lands…

Lands where so many impoverished and starving Irish migrated to over the centuries… but you can also peer skyward to the heavens that drew religious monks here from Egypt, Arabia, and Gaelic lands to commune with God.

This peak, the Monastery of Skellig Michael, 8 miles from the southwestern shores of Ireland’s County Kerry, was home to 600 years of monks (between the 6th and 12th centuries), who created a rocky “home” for themselves on the far edge of the known earth when it was believed you would fall from this flat planet once you ventured further east.

The monks, always counting 13 in number at any one time (representing Jesus and the Apostles), painstakingly constructed the stone steps leading to the top where a nest of beehive stone buildings housed them and their religious beliefs.

We arrived by small boat at the dock of the rocky crag just before noon after a 90 minute rollercoaster trip through the ocean swells, from Portmagee with 10 others.

The surreal scene greeting us at arrival resembled a busy Air Force base with thousands of winged gannets and puffins aloft, circling and dipping in the strong north breezes.

The rocky outcroppings and ledges of the island were dotted top to bottom with literally thousands of the birds… white spots littered like huge handfuls of confetti dropped from above to coat the surfaces.

Our group hopped off the bobbing boat at the small dock of the island with the advisory to return to the same spot in 2.5 hours exactly as the boat would only come ashore for a minute or two before casting off again.

This wasn’t our last advisory…

The warnings were many.

* The website posted warnings.

* The boat operators warned.

* Explicit signage warned.

* A guide at the start of the climb up the rock stairs gave a lengthy and detailed warning.

Yes, the guide was friendly but stern in his words.

The 600 rocky steps up the stone monument in the sea were not to be trifled with, the white-haired scholarly fellow said.

The sandstone and compressed slate steps – typically about 3-4 feet across – were uneven and often with sheer drops on the outer edges, he noted. With care and due attention, all would go well.

But, for those who might try taking photos while climbing, it could – and had unfortunately in the past – spell disaster. Always stop with two feet planted firmly to take pictures, he insisted. Pass others carefully. And if the heights become too much, well… sit down and end your upward journey with no worries or guilt. Every day, of the maximum 180 visitors, there are those some few who don’t manage to see the monastery at the peak.

For those with ADHD tendencies like myself, it was difficult to listen in while simultaneously absorbing the sight of 8 or 9 inch tall, doll-like puffins staring back at us from their little shelves of dirt and rock, mere feet away.

Puffins. Real live puffins. Upwards of 10,000 puffins adorned this small island rock, bottom to top.

Atlantic Puffins – sometimes called Sea Parrots – arrive on the island by the thousands in early July each year to make their little nest crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil on the mountainside.

The monogamous, pair-based avians produce 1 creamy white egg each season. The parents take turns feeding their young, small fish they harvest by diving into the ocean.

By early August, their fledglings set, the birds desert the island and return to their normal sea-based homes off the coast of Iceland.

Our hike was breathtaking… filled with fabulous vistas and heart racing precipice drops.

The scope of rock building taken on by 13 monks over hundreds of years is a testament to human strength and resilience. Their hardships were many and often painful; all part of their veneration to God.

Ultimately, our hike up the steep rock was as thrilling as it was disastrously uneventful… Woot Woot!

We passed the spots filmed in the movie Star Wars, The Last Jedi where Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley interacted in the upper reaches of the stony monastery. Yes, the elder Luke found his force here on Skellig Michael.

It’s a great day when you can climb a Stairway to Heaven, survive an encounter with a Jedi camp, and come home with an adventure to share.

Slainte

Photo credits: Maureen Miltimore Green, Erin Green, and The Man On The Fringe