Archaeologist warns of further rockfalls on Skellig Michael

Puffins and other seabirds stripping back weather-damaged vegetation

An archaeologist has expressed fears about another rock slide on Skellig Michael, due to a “severe burn back” of vegetation.

Burrowing by nesting puffins after a prolonged dry spell of weather has stripped back the vegetation to a level not seen in 30 years, says archaeologist Michael Gibbons. He says pebbles and stones from the exposed rock "rained down" when he visited earlier this week.

The exposed area is above the lighthouse road, the main access route to the 6th century monastery. A series of severe winter storms and salt erosion has already had a visible impact over recent years. Several rockfalls this year, including one in early May, delayed the opening of the Unesco world heritage site's visitor season by a day.

Skellig Michael is experiencing one of its busiest seasons after Disney Lucasfilm used it for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens in 2014 and 2015.


Mr Gibbons said the wooden canopy above the lighthouse road, built years ago to protect from falling stones, needs to be extended “as a matter of urgency” to at least another 20 metres. He said a full scientific survey of an unstable slope above the main visitor trail was urgently required.

The Office of Public Works said its assessment confirmed rockfall earlier this year was likely caused by a combination of factors, including dieback of vegetation on key slopes near to the Cross Cove section.

It said tourists have been warned and a barrier had been constructed to prevent further material reaching the roadway.

It said its team had developed a plan for the early regeneration of vegetative growth.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times