490AD First recorded history
Duach King of west Munster, he took refuge at the Skelligs rock.
When pursued by Aengus, King of Carhel, Duach fled for his life to this isolated island off the Atlantic coast of Kerry.
6th Century -Monastic settlement founded
With the introduction of Christianity to Ireland came the founding of the monastery on the rock. Although it is not known who is the founder of the monastery, tradition gives it to St. Fionan. The monastery consisted of a small enclosure of stone huts and oratories, which still stand to this day on the island.
795AD -First Viking invasion
Although isolated the Skelligs and its monks did not escape being attacked by the Vikings and in 795AD, the Skelligs was under attack from Scandinavia. Early Irish manuscripts give little information on these attacks.
812AD -Viking invasion
The Skelligs was again under attack from the Vikings and this time they took Eitgal, Abbot of Skelligs and starved him to death.
833 – 839AD -Viking Invasions
These years saw the island once again being attacked. However, in spite of these attacks, the monastic community continued to live on the Skelligs and in 860AD some rebuilding was done.
The life of the monks on the island is still much of a mystery. Unfortunately, few artifacts have been found to provide, information on the occupation of the Skelligs monastic community.
The Skelligs Michael (the bigger of the two islands) was a place of pilgrimage and penance for many years. In the 16th century it was a prime place of public penance. Two centuries later pilgrims were coming from all over Europe and Ireland at Easter-time to say the stations of the cross before finally kissing a stone carving over-hanging the sea at the ‘Needles Eye’.
Many tales have been told about various pilgrims to the island some funny others serious but all interesting. Over the years the nature of the pilgrims changed dramatically. The religious ceremonies were now almost attended entirely by girls and young men eligible for marriage. These couples instead of fasting went to the Skelligs to court, dance and have a good time.
These goings on lead to the famous ‘Skelligs List’ which were both defamatory and humorous poems common all over Kerry and beyond in the 19th and early 20th century
Many of these poems can now be seen in the Archives of the Dept., of Irish Folklore in U.C.D
Brief Lighthouse History
1821 Work begins on the construction of two lighthouses.The buildings, rock cutting and roadway were designed by Inspector George Halpn.
1823 Roadways cut and prepared for access to stations.
1824 Started on stations.
1826 January 1 station ready for lantern light.
1826 December. Both stations ready and lights exhibited on the Monday 4th December.
Both lights were fixed (non rotating) Total cost of project £45,721.15s.10p.
The upper light was 121.3m above high water and seen from a distance of 25 miles.
The lower light was 53.3m above high water and seen from a distance of 18 miles.
1870 The upper light was discontinued when a light was established on Inishtearaght 22 miles north of the Skelligs.
1909 A new 120,000 candles light with a rotation machine having a character of 3 quick flashes every 10 seconds was established.
1966 A temporary lantern was mounted on a nearby spur of rock and the main light was extinguished after 146 years to make way for the new tower and light.
1967 The new 1,800,000 candles light 3 flash characteristic and visible for 27 miles came into operation.
1978 Plans for the automation of the Skelligs Rock lighthouse.
1981 Skelligs Lighthouse goes automatic.