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Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael (from Skellig Mhichéal in the Irish language, meaning Michael's rock) is one of the better known but least accessible medieval monasteries, built in 588 on a steep rocky island about 12 kilometers off the coast of Ireland. Since the extreme remoteness of Skellig Michael has until recently discouraged visitors, the site is exceptionally well preserved. The very spartan conditions inside the monastery illustrates the ascetic lifestyle practiced by early Irish christians. The monks lived in stone 'beehive' huts, perched above nearly vertical cliff walls.

Skellig Michael survived a Viking raid in 823 and later was significantly expanded with a new chapel around the start of the second millennium. It was finally abandoned about a century after that. Starting in the 1500s, Skellig Michael became a popular destination for annual pilgrimages, but had no permanent residents. In 1826 a lighthouse was built on the island. In 1986 some restoration work was done and an official tourist bureau associated with the island was established. However restrictions have recently been imposed on tourist access, in the belief that tourist numbers (in particular in tourists' use of the ancient stone steps up the rock) was causing a worrying degree of damage to the site. Alternatives methods that would preserve the site while allowing public access are being considered.

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