Farther south, the two Skellig Islands rise pinnacle-like out of the Atlantic waters off County Kerry. Those willing to brave an 8-mile ferry crossing to Skellig Michael and then hike up some 600 uneven stone steps, find a marvelously intact monastic complex perched far above the churning sea. Enter the oratory and crouch in the beehive-shaped stone huts, where Ireland’s early Christian monks lived and worshipped between the seventh and 12th centuries. (Not so agile? See aerial footage of Skellig Michael in the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.) On its way back to Portmagee, the ferry passes Little Skellig, where 23,000 pairs of gannets nest on every available ledge, making it the world’s second-largest gannet colony.
West Cork: Local Culture, Farm Stays and Villages
Ireland is filled with small farms, most family owned, where the land has passed down from one generation to the next. That’s part of the island’s visual appeal: About 70 percent of it is pasture—grassy fields rendered brilliant green by rainfall, dotted with sheep, cows or horses.
There’s no better place to soak in all that pastoral splendor than West Cork, a remote, rural pocket in the southwest. Here, amid stonewalled fields that stretch to the sea, it’s common to see farmers—and their trusty Border collies—bringing the cows in for milking. (Public roads are often used to herd the animals to and from, creating what’s known as an “Irish traffic jam”—a delightful photo op for travelers.)