Skellig Islands

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Coordinates: 51°46′N 10°32′W / 51.767°N 10.533°W / 51.767; -10.533

Skellig Islands
Little Skellig window.jpg
Little Skellig seen through a window of the hermitage of Skellig Michael
Location Atlantic Ocean
Total islands 2
Major islands
County Kerry
Population 0

The Skellig Islands (Irish: Na Scealaga), once known as the Skellocks, are two small, steep, and rocky islands lying about 13 km west of Bolus Head on the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. The larger of the two is Skellig Michael (also known as Great Skellig) and together with Little Skellig are at the centre of a 364 ha Important Bird Area established by BirdWatch Ireland in 2000.[1] Skellig Michael is also famous for an early Christian monastery that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Little Skellig[edit]

Main article: Little Skellig

The smaller of the two islands is Little Skellig (Sceilg Bheag in Irish).[2](grid reference V268618) It is closed to the public, and as well as being Ireland's largest northern gannet (Sula bassana) colony with almost 30,000 pairs, it is also one of the world's largest, and is of international importance.[3] The island is 134 m tall and is approximately 1.5 km eastnortheast of Skellig Michael.

Skellig Michael[edit]

Main article: Skellig Michael

Also known as Great Skellig (Sceilg Mhichíl in Irish[4]), this is the larger of the two islands, with two peaks rising to over 230 m above sea level. With a sixth-century Christian monastery perched at 160 m above sea level on a ledge close to the top of the lower peak, Great Skellig is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island is featured in the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens with film crews on the island in July 2014 and September 2015. Some conservation bodies are concerned that the government has allowed filming on a seabird sanctuary, amid claims that hundreds of kittiwake chicks were swept off the cliffs and into the sea by the down-draught from a helicopter in 2014.[5]


Both of the Skellig islands are known for their seabird colonies, and together comprise one of the most important seabird sites in Ireland, both for the population size and for the species diversity. Among the breeding birds are European storm petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus), northern gannet, northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), common guillemot (Uria aalge), razorbill (Alca torda) and Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) (with 4,000 or more puffins on Great Skellig alone). Red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) can also be seen.

The surrounding waters have abundant wildlife with many Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus). Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), dolphin (Delphinidae) , beaked whale, and leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) have also been recorded. The islands have many interesting recreational diving sites due to the clear water, an abundance of life, and underwater cliffs down to 60 meters (200 feet).


Popular culture[edit]

The Skellig islands are featured prominently in a sequence at the end of the 1976 German film Herz aus Glas (Heart of Glass) by Werner Herzog.

Irish Group Clannad wrote a song "Skellig" for their 1987 Album Sirius.

Canadian singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt wrote the song "Skellig" for her 1997 album The Book of Secrets.

The 1998 children's book Skellig by David Almond.

Tristan Jones, in his sailing/travel novel "ICE!" writes of a visit to the Skellig Isles en route from England to North America in 1961.[6]

Scenes for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were shot on Skellig in July 2014 and more are taking place in September 2015.[7][8]

The Skellig Islands have also inspired the Skellige Archipelago in The Witcher novels and videogames.


  1. ^ BirdWatch Ireland. "The Skelligs: Great Skellig and Little Skellig". BirdLife International. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Little Skellig, Co. Kerry". BirdWatch Ireland. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Jedi threat to seabirds". New Scientist 227 (3039): 7. 19 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "ICE!" by Tristan Jones ISBN 0-7592-0772-0
  7. ^ O'Sullivan, Majella (29 July 2014). "And . . . action! New 'Star Wars' film shoot kicks off on Skellig Michael". Irish Independent (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "BirdWatch Ireland has major concerns over Star Wars filming on Skellig Michael". BirdWatch Ireland. 8 September 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 

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