I feel compelled to write about the experience of traveling to Skellig Michael. It changed me. And even now, two years removed from the event, I still can't put into words exactly what that means. We boarded a fishing boat, early in the morning, and motored out to the island. It's visible off the coast, from the town of Portmagee, but in the distance it looks like a barren rock. It's sister, lesser Skellig, is just that. It's a shard of stone slicing through the Atlantic and covered in sea birds.
But Skellig Michael has a few places to walk and stand. Enough that, 1400 years ago, monks paddled out there to make a home. We don't know why they went, but today it remains one of the most well preserved monasteries of its kind. We arrived at a modern concrete landing where we could unload, but soon we were ascending flat, stone steps to the summit of the island. No hand rail, no even spacing, just steps for a thousand feet.
When we stepped into the monk's garden, the raging sea wind calmed. The noise stilled and we found peace. It's a trick of the island, the wind blows over the top and that spot is sheltered. But that threshold was more than physical.
The Celts talk of thin places - those places where the fey, the fairie world, is nearly visible. The Christians took the idea and spoke of those places where heaven and earth touched. For me, Skellig Michael was such a place. I wandered the ruins, not with ghosts, but with friends, guides eager to show me a different life.
Too soon we had to leave. Our boat was heading back to shore. I would have stayed there for a week. So, I've written a novel that draws on Celtic themes. My main character, Peek, goes to Skellig Michael (that's not what it's called), in the first chapter. He gets to explore the thin places that I had to leave behind. But, he too is drawn away. He can't stay there always, just like I couldn't. Thin places give us a refuge, a retreat. But they also demand that we go forth.
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