Beehive, Great Skelligs
Close to the Oratory, six beehives dry stone huts stand on two terraces. They are considered to be monks cells. As two monks might have lived in each cell, the monastery would never had ore than a dozen monks. They grew vegetables on several small terraces for their food and seem to have raised goats. After the 11th century, the climate became colder and they could not survive anymore. They emigrated to a new monastery on the main land, at Ballinskelligs, near Waterville.
Some groups had guides and were sitting listening them. We had none as I had already read a lot about the Skelligs. Lets give a short summery of the history of the Skelligs.
The first historical mention of the Skelligs was in 490 Ad when Duach, King of West Munster took refuge to escape to Angus, King of Cachel.
Though no historical record ascertain it, St Fionan is considered as the founder on the monastic settlement in the 6th century AD. Half a dozen dry stone huts were standing inside a dry stone enclosure. This is supposed to be what we can visit nowadays.
In the 12th, monks left the Island and settled on the main land in a new monastery at Ballinskellig.
Since the 16th, Skellig Michael has been the place for a pilgrimage from allover Europe.
In 1821 began the construction of two lighthouses. To make the building easier, lane and stairs were carved in the rock. The “road” dates back fro this period.
Even if you expect them, to find yourself among half a dozen dry stone huts after the steep climb is quite a shock! The shock is may be even stronger as the huts are in such a good condition though in winter the winds must be awfully strong as the first land on the west is …America!
The oratory has the usual shape of an upside down boat (first photo). It is 3.5 m high. It stands on a small terrace and was built on a rectangular plan (3.65 x 2.44 m). It has a narrow and tall window with a vaulted top above the altar.
Lilltle Skellig is exactly framed within the window! (second photo)
Along the Beehives, two dozens of slabs of stone have been roughly carved to figure crosses and stand in a small enclosure, stuck into the thin soil. Each tomb has very little space: about 1 m long and 40 cm wide. Moreover, and what is puzzling is that the soil is not more than 20 cm thick, 30 cm to the most. How bodies could have been be buried under so little soil? I have nor read if there has been any archeological diggings performed on Skellig Michael.
The crosses have obviously been processed by hammering slabs of rock to remove the parts that had to be removed.
This was not really “carving” but something very rough, certainly with poor tools, may be only another stone.
However, some of the crosses are more elaborate than other. The tall one on the first photo has even an engraving with straight lines that outline a cross with two arms, a kind of Lorraine cross.
This is the monastery on top of Skellig Michael. The monks used to live here until the 11th century (I think) when they moved to Ballinskelligs on the mainland.
They lived in these beehive huts. They collected rainwater to drink and swapped goods with the fishermen from Portmagee and other places. I think it is definitely a mystic place - I mean how can they have lived there? One a steep rock like this? Why did they come? Why did they leave? So many questions open.
There's one window in one of the huts and I can imagine the discussion of the monks when they built it...
"Where shall we put the window?"
"Oh, good question. Isn't there any nice view on one side?"
"Well there's Little Skellig of course...."
"Oh right, let's build the window so that Little Skellig is exactly in the middle!"
...which it is.....!!!! You have to believe me though because the scan isn't exactly brilliant quality!