In conjunction with the Department of Finance, the Central Bank & Financial Services Authority of Ireland issued a special collector coin to participate in the 2008 Europa Coin Programme. Many European countries take part in this prestigious themed initiative and this year the chosen theme is ‘European Cultural Heritage’. The Irish coin, which will be sought after by collectors around the world, appropriately celebrates Ireland’s magnificent World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael. The 2008 Ireland proof coin represents the spiritual significance of this World Heritage Site with a balanced design depicting a group of birds flocking skywards from the summit of Skellig Michael. The raised elements of the evocative design, the islands and the birds, have been accentuated by the delicate frosting that contrasts beautifully with the mirror-like background. This same proof finish has been applied to the obverse of the coin that traditionally depicts the 16 string Irish harp modelled on the ‘Brian Boru’ harp in Trinity College Dublin. This harp has been used on Irish coins since 1928. Skellig Michael (from Sceilig Mhichíl in the Irish language, meaning Michael’s Rock), also known as Great Skellig, is a steep rocky island about fifteen kilometres west of the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. It is the larger of two Skellig Islands. For 600 years the island was an important centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. An Irish Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the top of the 230 metre high rock, was built in 588, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is amongst Europe’s better known but least accessible monasteries. The Extreme remoteness of Skellig Michael and its inaccessibility has ensured that visitors have been infrequent. The site is therefore exceptionally well preserved. Visitors who have made the difficult and often turbulent journey by boat to the island have been rewarded with a unique and awe inspiring sight. Having climbed the many steps that cling to the side of the sheer cliffs, visitors encounter a series of small stone beehive huts called clochans, where the early Irish Christians lived and worshipped in spartan conditions. It is easy to imagine the monks living in their stone huts at the top of the remote rock in the Atlantic Ocean, enduring the worst that the Irish weather could throw at them, and feeling that they were in a place mid-way between this world and the next. The competition to design this magnificent Ireland proof coin issue was won by Michael Guilfoyle. The coin is part of the Europa Coin Programme, a joint themed coin initiative between a number of European countries. The chosen theme for 2008 is European Cultural Heritage and the artist’s brief stated that the issue for Ireland should reflect in some manner the cultural aspect of Skellig Michael. Michael Guilfoyle’s winning design focussed on the spiritual significance of Skellig Michael. The early Irish Christians that settled on the island would have endured great hardships both to reach the island and to live there. Having built their dwellings, terraces and oratories above nearly vertical cliff walls near the peak of the island, the settlers may have felt that the location was a bridge between two worlds. Saint Michael, the patron saint of Skellig, is the Christian saint who carried the souls of the worthy to heaven. Illustrating this spiritual ascent to heaven is a flock of birds rising from the summit of Skellig Michael towards the stars. These stars serve to represent heaven and also allude to the twelve stars found on the coins of the European union. The silhouettes of the birds are all species that can be found around the Skellig Islands, such as gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes, terns, puffins and razorbills.