Go west, to where the land sprouts peninsulas like boughs and branches, go to Kerry and along Iveragh and come to Skellig: a place where the geologically sublime competes with the spiritually awesome to take your breath away.
An extension of the Kerry Ring, itself part of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, the Skellig Ring is home to some unique attractions.
Its current vogue comes from having part of Star Wars: The Force Awakens filmed on Skellig Michael, a double-pronged rock that rises defiantly out of the tumultuous Atlantic. The island is host to the strange dark-age monastic cells and oratorio that were once the inhospitable home to a group of unworldly and passionate monks. The sheer architectural audacity of these constructions has earned it nothing less than Unesco World Heritage status.
The star power of Skellig Michael has also pulled in leading travel publisher Lonely Planet, who have named the Skellig Ring in its Top-Ten places to visit of 2017. An accolade that means there is never a more fashionable time to visit.
Due to their protective isolation, Skellig Michael, its smaller sister island and the other islands on the Skellig Ring are perfect breeding grounds for colonies of seabirds such as puffin, manx shearwater, storm petrel and guillemots.
Accompanying the main feature, the Skellig Ring also boasts the picturesque fishing village of Portmagee. It is from here that you can take the ferry to Skellig Michael, or the bridge to Valentia Island. On the latter you will find the Skellig Experience, with exhibits on the history of the monastery and local area; and on the varied wildlife of the coastal region. While Geokaun Mountain, the highest point on Valentia Island, offers wonderful views in every direction and is accessible by easy walking routes or by car, so those less able don’t miss out on the
Around the coast, Ballinskelligs (Baile an Sceilg) is a Gaeltecht (Irish speaking) village that boasts a beautiful Blue Flag beach. Here you can truly feel what it’s like to be in the far west of Ireland. A charming village in itself with accommodation, cafes and pubs, it also has its own fair share of history with the ruins of both a medieval priory, where the monks went after Skellig Michael finally defeated them, and the 16th century castle: a stronghold of the McCarthy clan. Slightly outside this traditional Irish village you will find a contemporary art gallery, Siopa Cill Rialaig, set on the site of a village abandoned in the Famine, it combines a gallery space with a café and an artist’s retreat.
The road of the Skellig Ring is dictated to by the land and as such it winds, dips, pivots and admits only cars, meaning it is strictly off the coach tour itinerary. On the road between Portmagee and Ballingskelligs you will pass through St Finian’s Bay, which plays incongruous host to the Skellig Chocolate Factory, offering tours, free samples and plenty of opportunity for tasty holiday gifts.
The distance between St Finian’s Bay and Portmagee leads you across the top of the Kerry Cliffs where you can climb for stunning views out to the Skelligs, across to the Dingle Peninsula and inland to the Iveragh mountains.
If you’re after the root and branch experience of Ireland’s Atlantic west, the Skellig Ring, with its graceful beauty and distinctive character, has it all.