Skellig Ring, Ireland
Far out on the western edge of County Kerry, on the very edge of Europe, the Skellig Ring serves up some of the most dramatic scenery in Ireland. We got an early start this morning to take advantage of the mostly sunny sky.
The first order of business was crossing on a car ferry at Knightstown to land on Valentia Island. The fierce coastal wind whipped the Irish flag as we chugged along. One of my favorite signs was the “mind the quay” warning. Yes, let’s not drive headlong into the ocean…
Bet you haven’t seen a ship of the Irish navy. Here you go:
After a short voyage across the bay, we fired up our Volkswagen and rolled off the ferry onto the small island. We immediately stumbled upon St. John the Baptist Church, a striking architectural gem (and rare where just 3% of the population is Protestant. A full 84% of the Irish are Catholic).
The church was constructed in 1860, just as Abraham Lincoln was elected president leading to civil war across the ocean in the States.
We drove deeper into the interior of the island and came across ruins of the earlier Protestant church built in 1815. I enjoyed the anchor on one of the weathered headstones indicating the grave of a fisherman or sailor. You could also peer up through the mossy Georgian tower to the sky.
Throughout Ireland are stone walls and ruins marking a place once inhabited by people who moved on. Perhaps they emigrated to America or succumbed during the Famine. If only the walls could talk.
We descended down to sea level and hiked to the Cromwell Point Lighthouse. It sits on a precipice first used as a fort beginning in the 1600s to guard against invaders from the sea. The lighthouse was established and first lit in 1841.
A lighthouse keeper lived with his family on site until the operation was automated in 1947. I can only imagine a husband breaking the news to his wife, “pack yer bags, we’re going to live on a rock battered by the sea!”
After a short climb up to the bright-red observation deck, you’re greeted with bracing winds and spectacular views. The clouds rolled back and I could see the faint outlines of the Blasket Islands off the Dingle Peninsula and the Skellig Islands off the Iveragh. Perhaps, if the weather cooperates, I can hop a boat out to Skellig Michael in a few days.
Further along the Skellig Ring, we drove right down to the ocean’s edge. This was the departing point for a boat that takes visitors on a quease-inducing ride out to Little Skellig island to see the bird sanctuary. This afternoon, the waves crashed into the concrete dock and a posted sign broke the news that rough seas had cancelled excursions for the day.
The Skellig Experience Museum shed more light on the history of the famous islands about eight miles off the Irish mainland. More than a thousand years ago, generations of monks lived on the larger island, against all odds eking out an existence on the craggy mass of rock poking up out of the Atlantic.
Remember that final scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Yes, Skellig Michael is apparently where Luke Skywalker hides out.
A millennium after the monks, the islands were witness to several incidents during World War II. A German fighter crashed into the sea on March 5, 1941, three miles from the Skellig rocks. In 1994, a propeller blade, believed to be from the wreckage, was snared in a fishing net. It is now on display.
In the middle of the night on February 27, 1944, a U.S. Navy Liberator scraped the pinnacle of the big island and exploded into the sea. There were no survivors and no wreckage was ever found.
Again, I hope to book a passage on a boat in the next few days to hike up Skellig Michael. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on staying, existing on seaweed and bird droppings.
The views along the Skellig Ring are awe-inspiring. This isn’t a gentle coast slipping into the sea. Ireland abruptly crashes down into the Atlantic Ocean on its western shore. The wind was also awe-inspiring. I could barely stand to take these photos looking out over the cliffs near Clynacartan.
We drove higher into the hills along the coast but dark clouds rumbled in and engulfed us in a dense mist. This type of drizzle contributes to what the Irish call a “soft day”. It doesn’t seem to fall to the ground, it just lingers in the air.
Later, the drizzle definitely did decide to fall to the ground. This is really our first day (in a week!) with significant rain. I think that’s pretty impressive for Ireland. We jumped out at the next rocky beach and snapped a couple of pics of the angry ocean churning away.