St Fionan is the reputed founder of Skellig Michael off south west Ireland, Co Kerry, though it is very possible that unknown monks, who were always hungry for island solitude, got there before him. It is as well to say there was also more than one Fionan in Kerry. Skellig (‘Rock’) an extremely isolated peak seven miles out into the Atlantic. Monks lived in community on the lower peak at 714 feet above the sea in six beehive huts and two oratories which are still waterproof, while a lone hermit lived higher on the south peak in a place of solitude which rivals anything elsewhere in the whole Christian world.
It was sacked many times by the Vikings. On one such occasion Eitgal the abbot was carried off and died of starvation presumably refusing to tell where others were hiding.
Many monks were killed in these raids. It is said that Olav Trygvasson who later became King of Norway and introduced Christianity to that country was baptised by a hermit. Some say this was St Fionan of Skellig; others say St Elidius of St Helens in the Scilly Isles.
The monastery was supported by monks on the mainland at Ballinskelligs. The monks returned there when they were force to abandon Skellig about 1210. The rock then became a place of pilgrimage.
Boats leave for Skellig Michael from Portmagee when the sea is calm. It is also worth knowing that in Portmagee harbour is a perfect example of an island monastery on Illaunloughan including an oratory and outdoor altar with a restored shrine and holy well. A boatman will take you there on request. The restored shrine is quite stunning and gives a great sense of stepping back in time and in the blinking of an eye finding oneself in a little 6C monastery.
Another such small monastic island is to found on Church Island in Valentia harbour. A boatman from there will take you around the island perimeter.