The Book of the Skelligs

Review by Finbar McCormick

Skellig Michael, a rocky outcrop off the south-west coast of Ireland, boasts the best-surviving early medieval monastery in Ireland, if not western Europe. Ironically, despite the richness of Ireland’s early medieval documentary sources, mentions of the site are few, but they note the fact that it was attacked by the Vikings in AD 824 and its abbot killed. The monastery was abandoned in the 13th century, but continued as a focus of pilgrimage, penitence, and Romantic literature in the centuries that followed. This lavishly illustrated book assembles 26 authors who discuss just about every possible aspect of the site. Early chapters discuss the geology, flora, fauna, and folklife of the island, while later chapters deal with subjects including early maps, travellers’ accounts, and the renowned ‘Skellig weddings’. The core of this fine book deals with the monastery, and the wider religious world of the period. This holistic approach to Skellig provides an excellent read.

The Book of the Skelligs
John Crowley and John Sheehan (eds)
Cork University Press, £44
ISBN 978-1782055396