From Exotic Sea Shells to Country Stall. This is the Story of the Skellig Gift Store
A New Life on Skellig Michael
In the 6th century, the first monks set up home on Skellig Michael. Some considerable time later, in fact half a century ago my parents, Noreen and Alf, embarked on a new life and landed on Skellig Michael. This huge pinnacle of rock was to become the foundation stone or birth place for our Gift Store.
Noreen and Alf worked and explored not only the dizzy heights of these amazing islands, but also scuba dived to the very base of the rocks deep far below the crystal clear Atlantic ocean that surrounds these islands. The rock formations and scenery beneath the ocean is just as amazing as the islands above water. It is so tranquil and beautiful and yet in an instant can become so angry and even more breath taking.
Alf’s eight year old grandson Brian said to him recently “Granddad actually I can’t believe that of all the planets in the galaxy the Jedi chose not only planet earth, but the Skellig Islands to hang out, it’s amazing”.
The monks thought this was heaven on earth, so do my parents and apparently so do the Jedi. This was half a century before the Jedi of Star Wars fame found these wonderful rocky islands. Unlike the Jedi, my parents arrived by conventional means in the form of a 35ft fishing trawler named the Naomh Peader, (Saint Patrick) registered in Dingle.
They were befriended by a wonderful elderly gentleman, (a near neighbour of Daniel O’Connell the Liberator) Sean Larry O’Shea from Derrynane who skippered the trawler for them. Sean was born on Scariff Island 15 miles north of the Skelligs. His many generations of ancestors were witness to so much of the history making in the area, and Sean was well able to recall a story.
The Search for Sea Urchins
Working with the Naomh Peadar, my father and his brother searched the sea bed for exotic sea urchin shells. When cleaned and dried they make beautiful decorative ornaments. They also found themselves regularly going to the assistance of deep water foreign fishing boats, operating far off shore, when ropes and nets got tangled in their propellers.
They had a payment in kind arrangement with some of these boats and were given exotic sea shells, corals, and gem stones that the fishermen had picked up when trawling or collected back in their home ports. As our family grew it became my mother and grandmother’s job to craft these shells, coral’s and stones into ornaments and jewellery and to sell them on to visitors to the area.
A Store is Born
Our first retail outlet 50 years ago was really just a stall, consisting of a large timber lobster storage box or a cluster of traditional timber lobster pots, just sitting on the pier. When ready for sale the crafted items were displayed on the stall.
When departing on a fishing trip the shop would be left unattended, the cash register which consisted of an open container or box would display a notice to this effect
Please leave cash for purchases in container – Thanks Very Much.
On returning from their days work they were seldom disappointed. A great testament to the honesty of the times!
Over the years my parents would have swum the entire circumference of the Skelligs and also, most of the neighbouring islands under water. If the Guinness Book of Records had existed back then surely they would have made an entry.
Of all the many islands in Kerry their favourite was always the Skelligs. To quote Alf
“I took one look at this magnificent rock, dived through the crystal depths of the underwater Skelligs which has a colour and magic unsurpassed by any sea in the world. It was love at first sight”.
He always adds;
“the fact Noreen was there was the icing on the cake.”
He claims his love for the sea, both over and under is influenced by his Grandfather who was a sailor, and sail maker, who was shipwrecked North of Malin Head in Donegal. We can only speculate just how far north this incident happened. He saved the life of a senior crew member, who happened to be the son of a wealthy businessman, who in gratitude gave him work and helped him settle close to his flour mill in Limerick. The seeds of our destiny with Munster and Kerry were sown.
A love story, which began with a young couple in their early twenties from Tipperary and Limerick moving to live in the Kingdom and rearing five children, expanded into a great love for the wild beauty of Kerry.
The Skellig Gift Store, what else could we call it!