Local accounts on the unique appeal of the Skellig Islands off the coast of Kerry.

Kathleen Watkins visits the Kerry where she meets some people with a lifelong fascination for the Skellig Islands. The Skellig Islands are two uninhabited islands off the coast of south-west Kerry. Skellig Michael is the larger of the two and the other is known as Little Skellig.

The Skelligs hold a special fascination for boatman and author Des Levelle and while there are many islands off the Irish coast,

That one has a special magic about it.

Skellig Michael is known for having a well preserved early Christian monastery but the name Michael was not attached to the island until perhaps the 10th or 11th centuries.

Saint Michael is the patron saint of high places and Des Levelle cites Cornwall and Brittany as just two of the places with high areas also dedicated to the saint.

In mid-April thousands of puffins return to Skellig Michael to breed, and Little Skellig is interesting because of the 23,000 pairs of gannets there.

Des Levelle says neither books nor films can do the Skellig Islands justice and he urges people to visit and experience the sheer richness of nature first hand.

Many foreign tourists go to the Islands but Irish people are visiting in greater numbers. Getting there is not easy and involves a two hour boat journey on the open Atlantic.

Similarly climbing up Skellig Michael might seem a daunting prospect but Des Levelle says,

It’s no worse than going upstairs except that the steps 544 steps in length and that’s a long way. You can’t do it in a hurry, you need to sit and take it easy, and that’s a good thing because this is a place not to be rushed.

Another man with a deep regard for the Skellig Islands is Aidan Walsh. When he became a lighthouse keeper his ambition was to serve time on the Skellig Michael Lighthouse. In 1981 he was transferred there and served on that lighthouse until it was automated in 1987.

Three men were stationed in the Skellig Michael Lighthouse at any one time, each on a one month on, one month off basis. Every two weeks, one of the men was relieved and the lighthouse also received tradesmen, so there was plenty of activity on the island. Leisure time on Skellig Michael was spent reading, climbing, taking photographs and, when the climate was favourable, swimming.

There’s a fascinating quality about the rock, a magical atmosphere about the place, and I enjoyed every minute.

This episode of 'Faces and Places' was broadcast on 29 October 1988. The reporter is Kathleen Watkins.