Returning Light: 30 Years of Life on Skellig Michael
‘On Skellig Michael, thousands of birds appear and disappear, erecting towers, coming together in wings of movement which build and unravel over the empty sea. Often, no one else is there to stand beside me on the island. The mind wanders; links with the past are easily made; ancient ways of viewing things come alive.’
In 1987 Robert Harris happened upon an unusual job advert in The Kerryman – a new warden service was being set up on Skellig Michael, and the deadline was imminent. Just weeks later he was on his way to set up camp in one of Ireland’s most remote locations, unaware that he would be making that same journey every May for the next 30 years.
Here he transports us to the otherworldly island, a place that is teeming with natural life, including curious puffins that like to visit his hut. From the precipice he has observed a coastline that is relatively unchanged for the last thousand years – a beacon of equilibrium in an ever-changing world.
But the island can be fierce too. Inhabitable only for five months of the year, solitude can quickly become isolation as bad weather rolls in to create a veil between Skellig Michael and the rest of the world, when the dizzying terrain can become a very real threat to life.
Returning Light is an extraordinary memoir about the profound effect a place can have on us, and how a remote location can bring with it a great sense of belonging.
About the Author
Robert Harris was appointed to the warden service on Skellig Michael, County Kerry, in 1987, where he has been managing the guiding system and monitoring the island for over 30 years. He has lived most of his life near the sea and on islands, and he has a great interest in both monastic and natural history. He spends May to October on Skellig Michael when the island is accessible, and in winter months lives at his home in County Leitrim with his wife, Maigread.
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