In mid-July, we decided to try our luck catching a boat ride out to the island of Skellig Michael off the South-West coast of Ireland.
We were tipped off to this place by someone keeping watch over the Aughnanure Castle who shared a glowing review of this seemingly magical place! She talked about the excitement of the boat ride, the magnificent 6th century monastery atop the island (a filming location for Star Wars!), and a slight chance of seeing Puffins! Danger, history, Star Wars, AND puffins?! We had to get to this island!
There are only 15 small boats that make the journey out to the island – each boat carries only 12 passengers and only sails on good weather days (less than 100 days per year)….keeping the annual visitors to roughly 15,000/year (for reference, roughly 5,000,000 people visited Yosemite in 2016).
Due to the uncertainty of sea conditions, we were instructed to call the boat company in the morning to ensure its departure. We woke to grey skies but an otherwise promising weather report. We made the call…..and the boats were going!! We had spent the night in Kenmare at a lovely Air BnB but still needed to drive 1.5 hours to Portmagee to catch the boat. With a warm drink and loads of excitement and anticipations, we set off!
We made it to the boats and boarded with the lucky few – fingers crossed for maybe a single puffin sighting…..
Along the way to the main island, the boats passed by Little Skellig, an island popular with sea birds….and lovingly adorned with a frosting of bird poop.
At this point, the excitement was HIGH and everyone was eagerly tracking the birds and trying to spot a puffin flying by or floating out in the water. We spotted a handful of maybe-puffins and possible fly-bys and were as good as satisfied with that much luck!
As we approached the island, we were speechless! It was magnificent and beautiful and incredibly wild! We had heard the island can be quite dangerous with the hundreds of slippery, steep steps up to the monastery! WHAT LIES AHEAD?! I scanned the hillsides as the boat looped around the island, giving a majestic view of all its nooks and crannies and towering sides, how in the world do we get to the top?!
We finally pulled into a small protected cove with a set of cement steps serving as the dock. Each boat gingerly pulled up alongside the steps and carefully ushered the visitors to land! We wasted NO time and set off to get up to the monastery! Thankfully we were greeted with a not so scary path leading to the stairs!
BUT OMG! We saw a PUFFIN! MATTTT!!!! Get your camera!!!! A PUFFIN!!!
A few steps later…..MORE PUFFINS! OMG! Do we stop and take pictures?! Do we keep rushing up to the monastery?!
We only had a few hours so couldn’t stare at the cluster of puffins all day…. after a few minutes of oogling and wishing I could slip one in my bag, we agreed to set off and get to the top! Before reaching the stairs, we were met by a park ranger giving a safety talk for the journey ahead! Thankfully, the stairs weren’t nearly as scary as they sounded…..there are still A LOT of stairs….but very little risk of tumbling into the sea!
The walk up and view from the top were absolutely magnificent!
It pretty much felt like this (<— click there!) …..
We made our way a little further to the 6th centurty monastery (<— lots of info). Can you imagine living on this island in the 6th century?! In a stone hut?!
The docents at the top gave a great chat on the history of the island and monastery and you could walk around and into the buildings – unbelievable!
Okay, okay, you’ve waited long enough! The truth is, there were puffins EVERYWHERE!!! Something like 30,000 PUFFINS! They were in the air, peeping out of holes, chilling on the rocks, delivering fish to their families, and poking out of every corner saying “HEY! Check out my adorable features; colourful beak, little orange feet, and sweetly anxious eyes. You can’t help but LOVE ME!”! They are THE CUTEST BIRDS EVVVEEERRRR!!! I was so beyond giddy with delight! Matt and I were squealing with each spotting and fly-by! Matt’s trigger finger was nearly cramping trying to capture it all! AFTER editing, we still have roughly TWO HUNDRED puffin pictures! Here are a few of our favorites!
We left the island with a boat-load of folks grinning ear-to-ear! What a day!!!