Stairway (to Skellig Michael)

When we traveled to Ireland we visited Skellig Michael, a monastery founded by Christian monks in the 7th century.  Life there was remote and harsh, the weather often severe.   The monks collected rainwater to drink, raised a few animals and imported soil from the mainland nine miles away so they could grow vegetables on that barren little island.

If a monk made a rare crossing to the mainland for supplies, rough weather might strand him there for a week or a month.  To return to his spartan life in a cold stone beehive hut, he would have to climb 700 feet up these winding stairs, bearing whatever supplies he had fetched home.

On our life’s journey most of us earn our bread, raise our families, and pursue our passions.  Sometimes, like water flowing down a hillside, we take the path of least resistance.  What in your life do you care enough about to be willing to make this climb?

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall.


  1. TheOthers1 says:

    That’s a good question. Inspires me to think a little. Great story.

    1. Thank you. Let us know what you reckon. I appreciate your stopping by.

  2. June and Haskell says:

    Now that one I would like to see. June and I wandered around Sligo but I really would like to visit here.

    1. Hi there! So nice to hear from you both. I heard from Nancy that you were out galavanting and having a good time. So nice to hear from you, and I am delighted you could stop by and visit. Can you e-mail me your address? I would love to send you a copy of Eli’s graphic novel. xoxo

  3. magsx2 says:

    What a magnificent photo, you can certainly tell you are very high up and that is a long way down. Brilliant shot.

    1. Thank you, Mags. That is one of the most special places we have been to, but it is dizzying.

  4. Naomi, the photos on the past several posts have been fabulous. On another note, I wanted to let you know I tagged you for #luckyseven. Rules of the game are on my blog. Have fun if you want to play.

    1. Thank you, Sabrina, on both counts! It has really been fun following your blog.

      1. I’ve been enjoying yours. You are a wonderful photographer. Now I hope to read some of writing.

  5. interstitial_squirrel says:

    Reblogged this on Is, was, will be and commented:
    A truly remarkable take on a question I have often asked myself.

    1. Hi Katie, thank you, and thanks for the reblog.

  6. Inspirational. Short and sweet. Thank you.

    1. Hi, Tess. Thanks so much for stopping by. I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  7. Madhu says:

    Fab shot Naomi! The setting is awesome!
    Right now, I am content where I am! In my youth I might have made the climb in pursuit of a lot of things I mistakenly thought I couldn’t live without 🙂

    1. Thanks, Madhu. I know what you mean. I think much depends upon how you look at the climb. Is it a quick one-time rush up the stairs to donate a kidney to one of your kids, or a slow and steady climb uphill to reach that place of contentment. It sounds like you have already made that climb. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments–it gives me much to think about.

  8. George Weaver says:

    I agree with Madhu. Now, I think no pursuit would inspire me to climb that stairway more than once. If I got there, I’d have to live there. I’m inclined to think that people who live this kind of spartan life are in serious need of medication… 🙂

    1. Hi George, Madhu got me thinking, too. I don’t think I would care for the monastic life either, and their harsh life conditions weren’t all that different from the extremely harsh life conditions that everyone was leading back in the 7th century on through the Middle Ages. But I think we probably have all climbed that stairway in one way or another–maybe you already have, and once was all it took to find your place. Thanks for your visit. I had to smile when I read your thoughts on this.

  9. ShimonZ says:

    For some of us, much of life is the climbing… even if not to a monastic existence… but that too is very attractive.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I think you are right. I have reached a place of contentment in life, and have climbed the big stairway, but I wouldn’t be happy if I weren’t still working toward the future. I still have much work to do and many goals to reach, but I rarely take the stairs two or three at a time any more. And I glean much satisfaction from the smaller accomplishments–like harvesting a bowl of raspberries from my garden to bake a pie for my family.

  10. I think in the 7th century, to have a roof over your head – even if it was a stone beehive hut – could be considered a blessing. At least living on top of a barren rock with no possessions, you were safe from raiders and out of the way of wars. Good air, too. Less chance of unpleasant germs getting you. It would be interesting to know how long the monks lived, compared to the rest of the population.

    I’m a great believer in not having to torture myself on the path to enlightenment, if at all possible.

    My personal ambition goals are mostly achievable at my computer. And the spiritual ones do not, as yet, demand I live on a craggy rock.

    1. I love your comments, Sarah! Life was really hard for everyone back then, and I’m sure there was a certain sense of belonging that contributed to the monks’ sense of well-being. I think of the stairway as a symbolic one, and my career goals (as a writer and storyteller) are also mostly achieved at a keyboard. I also agree with you in that my personal and spiritual goals do not involve torture or living on a craggy rock, not in actuality or even symbolically! Thanks so much for taking to time to share your thoughts.

  11. Lynne Ayers says:

    I have to ask – did you actually climb this?! As to why I might? The only thing that came to mind was my children – but that’s a mother’s talk.

    1. Hi Lynne, the stairway in this photo was the one that the monks used to take up from the little boat dock. Fortunately, my family and I climbed a less challenging stairway on the other side of the rock. It was also very steep and winding, and I didn’t let my kids out of my sight, even though they were both teenagers and have always been cautious and mature. In the last couple of years in two separate incidents, two tourists–aged 57 and 77, have died from falls while making the climb, but I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time!

      And I love to hear your maternal voice talking–I would climb this stairway blindfolded for my children, if I had to. (But only if I had to).

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

  12. Lynne Ayers says:

    Oh, and GREAT shot for the Sunday Post theme!

    1. Thank you! This was my first Sunday Post, and I really enjoyed doing it.

  13. J. G. Burdette says:

    Beautiful photograph and an interesting bit of information there. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Hi J.G.–thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  14. Kate says:

    What would I have climbed the stairs for and what would I have climbed the stairs for knowing that previous people attempting such had died in the process are two different questions. Putting in effort to achieve something makes it feel worth something to me. Would the view have been so good if you hadn’t climbed? However, risking loosing what I have already got is another matter entirely.

    1. Yes, there is satisfaction in having achieved your altitude or goal under your own power. You take a risk every time you walk out your door or down your stairs, but especially because we have traveled with our kids, we tend to be cautious travelers, and the kids have always been very careful and mature. Going to Skellig Michael was one of the most amazing adventures we have had–including the boat ride over–and, as I said, I am glad I didn’t know just how steep the climb would be.

      1. P.S. to Kate. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. You always make me think!

  15. Naomi, this place looks so inviting!!
    Fabolous colors and great angle!

    1. Thank you, Pablo. I appreciate your visit!

  16. tita buds says:

    Two ‘wows’ here — that stunning/dizzying picture (no railings in sight!) and that question.
    What would I work really hard for, even chucking personal convenience in the process? I’m satisfied with how my own life is going so I guess it’ll be for a couple of the causes/advocacies I am passionate about such as children’s rights and animal welfare. ( Now it just sounds like I’m campaigning for office or sainthood, haha). 🙂
    Lovely post, Naomi!

    1. Hi Tita,

      Thanks for stopping by. Thank you too for taking the time to share what’s important to you.

  17. I thought of my family. It’s the greatest thing I value in life. It’s the greatest thing I have. Thank you for such a wonderful post. God bless!

    1. Hi Michael, I couldn’t agree with you more–there is nothing more important to me than my family. Everything else pales in comparison. Thanks for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment. It was nice to meet you!

  18. i mayfly says:

    Absolutely gorgeous shot – and terrifying! When we went to the Grand Canyon I couldn’t go out on the outgroppings…even had to close my eyes as we were riding the switchbacks down into the reservation. I’m in awe of your nerves of steel.

    What would make me comtemplate overriding my astutely developed sense of survival (also referred to as wimpitis)? 1. To save the life of someone I loved 2. To better the chances of our planet’s survival 3. to find a higher spiritual level of being. Certainly not money or fame. Now you’ll have me overthinking this question for weeks. Oh, no, Mr. Bill! :-0

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I don’t blame you for being nervous at the Grand Canyon. Here’s a little fun fact. NO ONE (at least since they started keeping track) has ever survived a fall into the Grand Canyon—at least not the over the edge kind of fall. I was so glad to have survived the boat ride over to Skellig Michael–it was really rough water–that I hardly even gave the climb a second thought.

      I appreciate your thoughts on stair climbing.

  19. Hi, I just nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award. Congratulations, you deserve it!

    1. Hi Maggie, thanks so much. It’s really kind of you.

  20. I guess it’s a little sad that I still don’t know the answer to that question. One of those “core questions” isn’t it? Thanks for visiting my blog.

    1. Please don’t think that! Sometimes the journey is what it is all about, and you don’t even have to know where you are going to enjoy a worthwhile trip. I really enjoyed your blog, and I appreciate your stopping by.

  21. sue says:

    I have to say that the climb back down seems scarier to me than up….

    1. You know, Sue, I’m sure you’re right! Isn’t it lucky that it works that way, or else we might never make it to the top. Once you’re up, then you can take a breather and figure out the next step.

  22. A mixture of beauty and danger. Exciting , thrilling, mesmerizing. Thank you..

    1. Thank you for stopping by, and taking the time to comment. I was just telling my daughter about discovering your blog today, that I had found a storyteller with a camera, a good eye, and a good heart.

    2. Thank you. That means a lot.

  23. kathy Klein says:

    A great question! I try to imagine having life reduced to little more than bare stone. All that emptiness and clarity of purpose.
    There’s a whole lot of story in this photo…

    1. Hi Kathy, there is something very liberating about it, I would think. It was interesting to be in San Francisco for almost two weeks, taking care of Eli. I had my computer and a carry-on bag to live out of, and really the only two things I missed were my husband and my daughter. I think I must have a little bit of the hermit in me. Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope to see you soon.

  24. Kourtney Heintz says:

    My writing.:)

    1. Oh, yeahhhhh. And for writers, it is a long steep journey–no one can do it for you.

  25. Pat says:

    Love the story behind the shot. I’m not sure I would climb it even for a great photo op. 😉 I am drawn into stories of people who choose to live in harsh environments. They tend to be my heros although I’m not sure why self-sacrifice for questionable reasons is noble. I’ll have to think on that one.

    1. A very interesting question, Pat. I have always been drawn to survival stories, too, and stories of passion. The stories of the monks who chose to live there are both those things. Thanks so much for a thoughtful comment that has gotten me thinking.

  26. restlessjo says:

    Well, I don’t mind a climb for the view at the top, Naomi, but it’s thought provoking, as ever.

    1. Yes, you’re right. It was well worth the climb, and not just for the view. Thanks for stopping by, Jo!

  27. Reblogged this on Writing Between the Lines and commented:

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  28. I’d climb this for family and at least some of my friends, for my faith, to save a number of people, and possibly other things less noble, such as to go on vacation. 🙂 Thanks for sharing the story, photos, and thoughts, Naomi.


  29. sue marquis bishop says:

    Naomi, Thanks for sharing this story and photos. Our own climbs seem insignificant. Sue

  30. Fascinating Naomi. I feel like I have been climbing those stairs all day today! And, Being a carer I will have to climb them again tomorrow and every other day for as long as needed.

  31. megtraveling says:

    That is a staggering climb, although the view is gorgeous! Very thoughtful post Naomi…

  32. We are going to Ireland in June and will travel this path!

    1. Dear Suzanne, That is so exciting! I hope you have wonderful trip. You will not regret a journey to Skellig Michael. I do look forward to reading about your travels!

  33. Canyon Williams says:

    ah Ireland I want to go there

    1. Hi Canyon,
      It’s so good to hear from you! Did you have a happy birthday? I am sure that you will get to Ireland one day, before too long!

  34. Thank you Naomi. A journey of the soul, an adventure that reminds us why we keep climbing no matter how hard it becomes sometimes, or most of the times. This holds so true, “On our life’s journey most of us earn our bread, raise our families, and pursue our passions. Sometimes, like water flowing down a hillside, we take the path of least resistance. What in your life do you care enough about to be willing to make this climb?” Love of family and the hope of giving them a better life and future…one of the reason to climb the harder path. Best of blessings to you and your family. Have a fun weekend.

    1. My family and their well-being is also more important to me than anything in the world. I think that, when we make that climb, we will holding hands with our loved ones. I also know that however difficult the climb, you will be there, helping your family to appreciate the view, the flowers at your feet, and giving them a boost when they are tired.
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful response.

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