For centuries Irish monks were thought to have been the first inhabitants of the windswept island of Skellig Michael, located off the west coast of Ireland.

Until now its been believed the island was first inhabited around 1,200 years ago, but it turns out the monks may not have been the rock’s first settlers.

And even after Vikings, or church reform or perhaps just bad weather finally forced them to quit it, the monks may not have been the last dwellers there before the arrival of the light keepers in the 1820's.

Recent  evidence indicates that Skellig Michael’s settlement history may be far more complex than previously thought, according to archaeologist Michael Gibbons.

Gibbons told the press this week he discovered steps and stairways on the rock’s northern and southern flanks, which he had reported to the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The stairways lead off or link into the three main existing stairways. A ruined fort above the existing monastery could have been part of a network of high forts found on the Dingle peninsula and on the Blasket islands.

'It may be that some time before or around the eighth century, the monks moved into a pre-existing citadel,' Gibbons said.

The independent archaeologist has appealed to the OPW to take a sensitive approach to new discoveries.

Gibbons chose that word because five years ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) criticized the State for the absence of a management plan, and found conservation works had dramatically transformed the appearance of monastic remains.