This morning we got up around 7 am so we could leave by 8 and get to Portmagee by 10 am. Dean had arranged transport to Skellig Michael on Wednesday — our hosts let Dean use their telephone and found us a lot of information about the trip such as the best place from which to sail and the best transport companies.
The drive to Portmagee from Firies is the northern section of the Ring of Kerry. The views were spectacular — we even saw a rainbow, but not more than much of what we’d already seen in Kerry. In fact the view from the upstairs bathroom of our holiday farmhouse is as nice.
Joe Roddy himself, the captain of the boat that we’d booked to transport us to Skellig Michael, greeted us as we pulled into the parking lot at Portmagee — a small port town named after one of the most notorious smugglers of the 18th century. It basically consists of a few pubs and colorful buildings in front of a large dock. Captain Roddy shook our hands, assured us it was going to be a lovely day and told us to stay warm in the car for another 20 minutes, then come to his boat.
We all donned our foul weather gear, even though the day was sunny and reasonably warm. We knew the air on the sea would be much colder. And wet. I counted my layers and realized I was wearing 8 layers, starting with a Damart long sleeved thermal shirt and ending with a waterproof parka. Then we headed to the boat.
Skellig Michael is a mile wide piece of rock that stands 7.5 miles off the coast of south-west Ireland. That in itself is interesting, but the reason people visit the island is because at the top of the rock stands a very well preserved 6th century monastery. About 15 boat companies are allowed to land on Skellig Michael, transporting about 12 passengers each. Weather often causes the cancellation of the trip and even on a calm day, like today, the sea is rough.
We boarded the boat and Joe Roddy handed out rain gear. I declined mine, declaring, “I’ll be fine.” Mr Roddy replied, “You won’t be fine.” To which I replied, “I have 8 layers on!” He handed the rain gear he was offering to me to someone else and walked away mumbling. Later he came back and gave me rain pants, which I graciously accepted.
As we pulled away from the dock, the sun shone down on us, and in my 8 layers of clothing I felt deliciously warm and was confident the boat ride would be a piece of cake. It was a piece of cake at first — no waves, calm sea, little wind. I was ready for this trip.
Soon, however, the boat sped up and we were all sprayed with seawater. Up and down, up and down. Splash, splash, splash. We slid around as the boat raced 12 miles over the waves. It was quite scary.
After what seemed like forever, riding the waves, the boat docked at a huge pointed rock sort of shaped like the letter M. Up the side of the rock were a set of steep stairs with no railing. I’d about decided not to go up to the top at this point, fearing the steps, but then noticed another path leading around the island, and remembered that the stairs we’d be climbing were not the same stairs as the one the monks climbed.
Joe Roddy informed us that he’d be back to pick us up in 2.5 hours. We removed our loaner gear and as I handed my rain pants to the captain he smiled and said, “You’re the one who wasn’t going to wear these,” and I replied that I was glad he insisted I wear them.
Clare and Andrew were out of the boat and on the island ahead of us, but we met up with them as soon as the puffins were visible. Hundreds of seemingly tame puffins stood around on the rocks and vegetation. Others flew overhead and below as we walked up the stairs. While these stairs seemed safer than the ones I’d seen earlier, it was still a struggle to keep going sometimes. I had to not look over the side, as much as I wanted to see the flying puffins. There were few railings, and huge drop-offs to the sea, hundreds of feet below us. I was glad Andrew was out of his clumsy stage, but didn’t give much thought to where the kids were — I was too concerned with putting each foot in front of me for the 600 or so steps to the top of the rock.
When I finally reached the monastery, I wondered why I’d been worried about the difficulty of climbing up 600 steps. I should have been worried about falling off the top of the 600 steps.
Several “beehive” huts, some dry-stone walls, a graveyard and a vegetable garden stand on the top of Skellig Michael. A very informative docent told us about the monastery and the people who lived there. We walked around and took too many photographs. It was so worth the boat ride and the walk, being in this ancient place.
Back at Portmagee a flying bird gave us a welcome back package in the form of a poo.
We drove home and when we got to the house, Liam’s car was blocking the driveway. An elderly man in a heavy woolen sweater and wellies walked up to us and explained that Liam was taking the cows to be milked. He told Dean to drive the car into the driveway and then drive our car in afterwords. I talked to him for a bit and learned he was Liam’s 87 year old father. He told me he was born and grew up in the house and that his older brother had lived there and only recently died. He also told me he had another brother who lived in America.
Later, while Dean took a nap, Liam stopped by to apologize for leaving his car in the drive. We chatted a bit about our day and Liam told me that he was going to put up some barn owl nesting boxes soon.
While I’m sad to be leaving Tralia House, I’m anxious to see our new place. It can’t compare — but will be different — being by the sea. We will rest a little more there as well.