It is located in the Atlantic Ocean almost 12 kilometres (7 miles) west of the Ivereagh Peninsula in County Kerry.
Skellig Michael is actually a twin-pinnacled crag. A crag is a rocky hill or mountain, generally isolated from other high ground.
The island consists of approximately 22 hectares (54 acres) of rock, with its highest point, known as the Spit, 218 meters (714 feet) above sea level.
The island is best known for its Gaelic monastery, founded between the 6th and 8th centuries. The year of the monastery’s foundation is unknown.
The monastery is built into a terraced shelf 180 meters (600 feet) above sea level. It contains two oratories, a cemetery, crosses, cross-slabs, six clochán-type domed beehive cells (of which one has fallen) and a medieval church. The cells and oratories are all of dry-built corbel construction, and the church, which was constructed at a later date, is of mortared stone.
The monks constructed three sets of steps to their monastery, affording access during differing weather conditions. These are known as the East, South and North Steps.
Christ’s Saddle, is the only flat and fertile part of the island, and thus contains traces of medieval crop farming.
The hermitage is on the opposite side of the island to the monastery. Though its origin and history are not as well studied as that of the monastery, the hermitage is thought to originate from the 9th century and comprises several enclosures and platforms situated on three main terraces cut into the rock.
Skellig Michael was largely uninhabited until the founding of the monastery.
It has been estimated that no more than twelve monks and an abbot lived at the monastery at any one time.
The monastery survived Viking raids in the 9th century, notably in 823.
The monastic community appears to have moved to the mainland by the 13th century but the island continued to be venerated as a place of pilgrimage in the following centuries.
Theories for the site’s abandonment include that the climate around Skellig Michael became colder and more prone to storms, Viking raids, and changes to the structure of the Irish Church. Probably a combination of these factors prompted the community to abandon the island and move to the abbey in Ballinskelligs.
Two lighthouses built in the 19th century assisted with the safe passage of shipping around the southwest coast of Ireland and one continues in operation today.
The island also contains the remains of a tower house, a megalithic stone row and a cross-inscribed slab known as the Wailing Woman.
Over a hundred stone crosses of varying sizes have been recorded on the island. The two largest are highly decorated.
The island is named after the archangel Michael, while “Skellig” is derived from the Irish language word sceilig, meaning a splinter of stone.
Skellig Michael was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
On the island you can find variety of animals including gannets, puffins, a colony of razorbills and a population of approximately fifty grey seals.
The island is of especial interest to archaeologists, as the monastic settlement is in unusually good condition.
Skellig Michael contains three landing points variously used by monks depending on the weather conditions. Today the island receives an average of 11,000 visitors per year. To protect the site, the Office of Public Works limits the number of visitors to 180 per day.
Skellig Michael has in the 2010s gained fame among fans of the Star Wars movie series as it provided the location shots for the refuge of Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.