Google celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on Friday with a Doodle that references an island off the Irish coast that was not only home to Christian monks for centuries, but was also a shooting site for two Star Wars movies.
The Washington Post‘s Michael Cavna gave some background on the Doodle in a Friday article: “The home-page animation, by London-born Google artist Matt Cruickshank, features shamrocks high-fiving on Skellig Michael, a rocky, beguiling isle where seabirds perch about seven miles off Ireland’s southwest coast.”
Cavna noted that the Doodle is “a representation of a circa-sixth-century monastery — some 600 steps above where visitors dock — that enhances the mystical aura of this remote World Heritage site.”
Star Wars fans know the County Kerry island as the filming location for the final scene of The Force Awakens. It is also featured in the upcoming December 2017 sequel, The Last Jedi.
I actually got to visit “rocky, beguiling isle,” as Cavna put it, nearly six months ago on my honeymoon. My wife and I are both devout Catholics and Star Wars fans, so it seemed fitting that we visit this renowned site.
Due to the obvious demand, we booked our boat ride from the seaside village of Portmagee to Skellig Michael almost six months in advance. The reservation was not a guarantee that we would actually get to visit the island, due to the temperamental sea and weather conditions around the island. The boat operators asked us to call them on the morning of our planned visit to get a thumbs up or down.
On the third day of our honeymoon, we left our home base in Limerick. We found a pay phone in a small village halfway to Portmagee, and made the call to the boat operators. They told us that the conditions were barely acceptable to proceed, so we continued our drive to the coast.
We left Portmagee just after 9 am in the morning. The boat was only big enough to hold about a dozen passengers, and it struggled at times to make headway against the wind and waves for the better part of an hour. One of the other tourists got seasick and vomited during the trip over. The captain and first officer were a father-son duo who shared the name Brendan. I trusted that we were in good hands, as St. Brendan is the patron saint of mariners.
The dock on Skellig Michael is only big enough to accommodate one boat at a time, so we had to wait our turn before stepping onto the island (see picture above). The first part of the walk to the top was easy, as it was along a footpath that hugged the bottom of the island. We soon reached the bottom of the 600 stairs laid down by the monks centuries earlier.
It took us another hour or so to reach the ruins of the monastery at the top of the steep island. The wind definitely didn’t help during the climb, but we had to a chance to pause in a grassy area three-fourth of the way to the top (see picture below).
The monastic ruins, along with the breathtaking views from the top, made the harrowing-at-times boat ride more than worth it. A guide who sometimes actually lives on the island for days at a time gave the visitors a brief lesson on the history of Skellig Michael, which hosted monks until the end of the 12th century. We only spent about an hour walking among the stony structures before we had to begin our descent back to the dock.
The journey back to Portmagee went much more smoothly, as we were going with the wind and tide instead of against them. We paused for a bit near another island called Little Skellig, which hosts thousands of sea birds. The weather, which had been largely sunny during the entire morning and early afternoon, became rainy just before we reached the dock.
However, during the drive back to Limerick, we saw a rainbow over Dingle Bay. I would say that that was a more than appropriate sight to close out a memorable day during my first visit to the Emerald Isle.
[main image via screengrab; other images taken by the author in September 2016]
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