The Skelligs of Kerry

The Skellig Rocks are situated about eleven miles from the mainland, and are considered of great sanctity. In the Middle Ages, during the penitential weeks of Lent, the monks used to leave the adjacent convent and retire to the Skelligs Rocks for silence, prayer, and abstinence. Several ancient stone-roofed cells are still in existence at the top of the rock, showing where they dwelt. These cells are of the most ancient cyclopean order of building known in Ireland, and are far older than the church near them, which does not date earlier than the seventh century.

Certainly no place more awful in its loneliness and desolation could be imagined than the summit of the bleak rock, reached only by a narrow way, almost inaccessible, even to those accustomed to climb precipitous paths, but which makes the ordinary traveller giddy with fear and dread.

As marriages were not allowed in Lent, it became a custom for the young people of both sexes to make a pilgrimage to the Skellig Rocks during the last Lenten week. A procession was formed of the young girls and bachelors, and tar-barrels were lighted to guide them on the dangerous paths. The idea was to spend the week in prayer, penance, and lamentation; the girls praying for good husbands, the bachelors repenting of their sins. But the proceedings gradually degenerated into such a. mad carnival of dancing, drinking, and fun, that the priests denounced the pilgrimage, and forbade the annual migration to the Skelligs. Still the practice was continued until the police had orders to clear the rocks. Thus ended the ancient custom of "going to the Skelligs:" for the mayor having pronounced judgment over the usage as "subversive of all morality and decorum," it was entirely discontinued; and the wild fun and frolic of the Skelligs is now but a tradition preserved in the memory of the oldest inhabitant.