Irish book awards

In photos: The fascinating world of the Skelligs

The authors of The Book of the Skelligs share some of their insights, along with stunning photographs.

THERE HAS LONG been something fascinating and slightly eerie about the Skellig islands.

Knowing that monks once lived in this extremely remote area makes you wonder how they did it. A look at the view from the island, though, shows you all the beauty that surrounded them. 

The Book of the Skelligs is an Irish publication which explores the beauty and scale of the Skelligs islands in the Atlantic, taking in the construction of the monastic site and why it was such an achievement, as well as the geology, marine and terrestrial life there.

It has been nominated in the An Post Irish Book Awards, in the category sponsored by The Journal, best Irish Published Book of the Year.

Throughout the book are paintings, maps and photographs, some of which haven’t been seen before.

Below are a selection of the photos with extended captions from the authors, giving new insight into the World Heritage Site. 

Aerial view of the monastery on Skellig Michael

Fig. 1 Skellig Michael Aerial pic5 Valerie O'Sullivan Valerie O'Sullivan

The monastery is located on terraces retained by continuous drystone retaining walls that were constructed on the steeply sloping plateau on the east peak of the island.

The upper terraces contained the monastic cells and churches, while the lower ones known as the ‘monks’ gardens’, may have served as sheltered areas in which to grow crops.

The development of the monastery on these terraces evolved in stages over several hundred years, and only its final phases are visible today.

Fig. 3 Skellig MichaelSkellig Beag (1)

Skellig Underwater 

PastedImage-78525 Vincent Hyland Vincent Hyland

Sunlight filters through the water column and lights up the canopy of kelp forest, with its stripes (stalks) and fronds (leaves). Marine life uses kelp for cover, for growth, for camouflage and for protection. Within the canopy may be found starfish, sea squirts, sea anemones, crabs, squat lobsters, stalked jellyfish, wrasse, gobies and blennies.

Skellig Michael

Fig. 3 Skellig Sunset Finans Bay2 Valerie O’Sullivan Valerie O’Sullivan

A photo taken from St Finian’s Bay with Skellig Michael in the distance. The bay is one of several mainland locations named after Naomh Fíonáin, the saint associated in folklore with the founding of the island monastery. 


puffin-on-skellig-michael-photovalerie-osullivan Valerie O’Sullivan Valerie O’Sullivan

The puffin is a pelagic bird synonymous with Skellig Michael and is a ubiquitous presence on the island from April to the end of July. A puffin can swim for long periods under water in pursuit of fish such as sprat, herring, and sand eels while its beak can hold multiple fish at any one time. Its sharp claws are used in burrowing to create nests.

Each breeding pair produces one chick and returns annually to their breeding grounds after wintering in the Atlantic.

The lighthouse

Fig. 7 Skellig LightHouse1

Above is an aerial view of the lighthouse station at Seal Cove and the ruins of the upper station (far left) where the light was decommissioned in 1870. The pathway leading from Blind Man’s Cove to Seal cove, created during the initial construction work in the early 1820s, is also visible, as is the meandering pathway to the ruins of the upper lighthouse station.

The lighthouse towers and adjacent dwellings were built to a large extent from the slate and masonry rubble that was blasted in the construction of the road, pathways and platforms.

The Book of the Skelligs – John Crowley and John Sheehan (Cork University Press) is nominated in the An Post Irish Book Awards in’s sponsored category, Best Irish Published Book of the Year. Find the full list of nominees and more information at the awards website. Crowley is a lecturer in the School of the Human Environment at University College Cork, while Sheehan is a senior lecturer in the School of the Human Environment at University College Cork. 

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