Twelve kilometers off the coast of the Kingdom of Kerry - so-called because it is unlike any other part of Ireland - lie two natural old red Devonian sandstone pyramids, the Skellig islands, Skellig Bióg (little) and Great Skellig or Skellig Michael. The island are the tops of submerged mountains at the westernmost point of the Kerry Mountains.
The Devonian Period, 416 million and 359.2 million years ago is sometimes called the “Age of Fishes” because of the diverse, abundance of creatures that swam Devonian seas. The stone contains fossils of coiled shell marine organisms known as ammonites. It was late in the period that the first four-legged amphibians appeared, indicating the colonization of land by vertebrates.
Skellig Michael is approximately 21.9 hectares in size, rising 218m (715 ft.) above the Atlantic Ocean.
Kerry County Council’s Site management plan explains that “mountain-building movements compressed the sedimentary rock into hard, finely grained layers of sandstone and slate and created great lines of fracture, jointing and faulting. Erosion along major faultlines in the centre of Skellig Michael caused the rock to gradually break and fall away, leaving behind a U- shaped depression 130m above sea level, which is today named Christ’s Saddle. Two peaks remain, one each side of the valley: one to the north-east, 185m high, is the location of the Monastery; one to the south- west, 218m high, is the location of the Hermitage. Erosion along fault and cleavage lines also created the three landing coves on the island.
Skellig Michael is a National Monument in state ownership, the preservation of which is a matter of national importance by reason of its historical, architectural, artistic or archaeological interest.
The entire island was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996 in recognition of the outstanding universal significance of its cultural landscape and the importance of its protection to the highest international standards.