GLENGARIFF, KILLARNEY, AND VALENTIA...continued

From Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil Richard Lovett

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We pass near the Little Skellig, and while doing so have ample time to study the large numbers of gannets clustering upon the broken ledges of its most southern haunt in Great Britain. The sea is running strongly through a large natural arch at one of the sharp angles of the rock, and though we cannot help wishing for the sunlight, we can see clearly the weird forms into which the storms of ages have beaten its many cliffs and pinnacles.

The Gannet
The Gannet

But now all our attention is concentrated upon the main object of our trip. We are within a mile of the Great Skellig, and already it seems to tower high above us in solitary and mysterious grandeur. On all sides the cliff rises so abruptly and so forbiddingly from the sea that access seems impossible, and one feels curious to discover how and where it is possible to get a footing. As we pass under a tremendous shoulder of rock which forms the base of the peak running up almost perpendicularly for about 700 feet above the sea, a little cove comes into view. Comparatively calm as the day is, and assured as we are by the boatmen that there could not be a finer day for landing, it is evident even to an inexperienced eye that the sea is running in the cove in a way that shows what careful handling the boat needs. By skilful management one of the crew is enabled to jump upon a ledge of rock made exceedingly slippery by seaweed growing upon it. But it is not the first time he has set foot upon the Great Skellig. I follow, and am kept from any risk of a fall by his stalwart arm, and then, by an admirable arrangement of ropes, the boat, after the others have landed, is swung so that she rides up and down in the middle of the cove with no risk of coming against any one of the numerous rocks which would soon knock a hole in her.

The Great Skellig
The Great Skellig

And here we are, after our three hours' pull, safely landed upon the famous islet. A very fine road, which was made by government labour in the early part of this century, has been cut out of the perpendicular cliff, and winds slowly up to the lighthouse. It affords here and there splendid views of the cliffs in its gradual ascent, and at one point crosses over a chasm. Being on the lee side of the island, when we saw it, and the sea as quiet probably as it ever is there, the swell as it rolled in was pleasant to the ear and the eye; but in a westerly gale the scene here must be terrific. As one stands upon this road, clinging closely to the face of the rock, and looks westward, remembering that the nearest land in that direction is nearly 2,000 miles away, a sense of isolation comes over the mind.

Until recent years there were two lighthouses upon the island, but now only one is in use. This is the lower one, well and securely placed upon a platform levelled in the rock about 140 feet above the sea. But even at this altitude it is not altogether free from serious assault on the part of the ocean. A few years ago the roof was partly carried away by an enormous wave hurled against it by one of those severe gales that from time to time sweep across the Atlantic. The whole western side of the islet has been beaten by the waves into precipitous cliff.

The only human beings at present resident upon the island are the lighthouse keeper with his wife and children, and his assistant. There is just enough space upon the upper part of the island for the children to run about and for a few sheep to graze. But the monotony of such a life must be very great, and it seems hard upon children that they should be compelled to spend two or three years of their young life on such a lonely, not to say dangerous rock. The lighthouse keeper here, in common with his brethren elsewhere, is courteous and willing to show all that there is to be seen. Perhaps his cordiality of greeting to the stranger is somewhat warmer than usual from the fact that a visit is indeed a rare event, and the sight of a strange face something to be remembered.

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