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The Book of the Skelligs, published by Cork University Press, presented at the White House in Washington on St Patrick’s Day

The Book of the Skelligs was presented by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, at Ms Harris’ breakfast event on St Patrick’s Day, held in the White House.

Cork University Press, through its atlas series, has made a distinctive contribution to Irish culture and these books have had a huge reputational impact for University College Cork; it is not by chance that this book was selected by the Taoiseach’s department since The Atlas of the Great Irish Famine was presented to President Barack Obama in 2013 by the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

This book explores the Skelligs, Ireland’s most dramatic and beautiful Atlantic islands, and focuses particularly on Skellig Michael, a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. It considers why the construction of a remarkable monastic site near the peak of this island over a thousand years ago stands as one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of Christianity.

The Book of the Skelligs combines different approaches to deepening our understanding of the islands, combining the perspectives of history, archaeology, cultural geography, oral tradition, literature and natural science. It interprets distinctive features, both physical and human, that shape the unique character of these islands while also exploring their geology, marine and terrestrial life as well as the historical background and cultural setting of Skellig Michael’s monastic remains.

It also considers the impact of the Vikings, and the construction of lighthouses a millennium later. Drawing on appropriate disciplines, the book reveals how a unique cultural landscape was generated by human activities over long periods of time. The editors and contributors have incorporated a wide range of illustrative material including maps, paintings, and photographs throughout the book, many of which have not been published before. It comprises over forty individual chapters and case studies in which the work of academics and independent scholars is combined with that of poets and artists to provide a wide range of perspectives on Skelligs’ distinctive character – both natural and human – during different periods. The aim of the editors is to produce a well-informed, accessible, highly readable, and generously illustrated volume that succeeds in conveying a true sense of the cultural richness and complexity of these remarkable islands. The blend of text and images is an important part of the book, making it both suitable for the general reader and a wide range of teaching programmes.

John Crowley is a lecturer in the School of the Human Environment at University College Cork. John Sheehan is a senior lecturer in the School of the Human Environment at University College Cork.


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