OPW update on Sceilg MhichĂ­l/Skellig Michael Storm Damage - Monastery Undamaged

24 March 16

The Office of Public Works today (24 March 2016) has the following update on earlier reports of a breach to the Lighthouse Road wall at Sceilg Mhichíl/Skellig Michael. The Island was finally accessed by OPW and Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht staff on Monday of this week (21 March 2016) and the damage inspected at first hand. It is clear, following the inspection, that, though the damage is significant, visitor access will be feasible in time for the start of the official visitor season, which is 14 May.

The damage to the wall was, it is now evident, caused primarily by rockfall from above, which is an ever-present risk at Sceilg Mhichíl, particularly in this location. It would appear that the current displacement of material has been caused by a combination of factors; excessive salt from sea spray has first caused a significant amount of vegetation on the Island to die back and this has rendered the soil unstable. This effect, coupled with the torrential and sustained winter rains, has then led rock material on higher slopes to become loosened, cascading onto the Road below and causing the destruction we have seen.

The damage, it would appear, is significant and is even more extensive than it was at first thought. There is, in particular, evidence of a second area of walling which, though it has not collapsed completely, is severely compromised and will possibly have to be addressed in addition to the main, most obvious, breach.

In the short term, OPW are first planning to return to the Island and access the upper slopes by rope to see whether there is any further dangerous material which is unstable and to lower it safely out of a position of danger. In tandem, OPW will devise a repair project to address the wall, in consultation with the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht. As well as the practical design issues related to Architecture, Structural Engineering and the logistics of worker access, safety, supplying stone for the repair etc, this project will also take into account issues related to Ornithology and Archaeology so that a proper Consent application under National Monuments legislation which is also consistent with the sites' World Heritage designation and its status as a Special Protection Area for Birds, can be devised and approved in due course by the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The OPW Heritage Service reminds potential visitors that the Island remains in an extremely dangerous condition and should, under no circumstances, be accessed by anyone other than the official project team and their contractors. Any visitors accessing the Island in advance of the season will be committing a trespass and will be exposing themselves to considerable risk. Visitor access, when it is restored, will have to be strictly supervised, given that it will be passing in close proximity to a work site; however, it is envisaged that this can be managed safely on a controlled basis and visitors will therefore be able to traverse the affected section and proceed onwards to the Monastery ascent. The Monastery itself is, it has been confirmed, entirely undamaged and, apart from clearing of winter debris, will be available for visitors to enjoy as normal.

-ENDS-

For further information, please contact Colette Davis, OPW Press Officer at 087 947 5552 or colette.davis@opw.ie