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Tory Island (also known in
Oileán Thoraigh) is located nine miles off the North West coast
of County Donegal. The island is approximately 5 km long and 1 km
wide. It has a population of 170, divided among four towns — An Baile
Thoir (East Town), An Baile Thiar (West Town), An Lár (Middletown) and
Úrbaile (Newtown). It is part of the Donegal Gaeltacht and Irish is the
island's main language. Since the 1950s, it has been home to a small
community of artists, and has its own art gallery. The English artist
Derek Hill is associated with the Tory artist community. The Island is
an important breeding site for Corncrakes whose numbers have
fallen in other locations with the intensification of agriculture
King of Tory
A king is chosen by consensus of the islanders to represent the
community, a unique tradition that no longer exists anywhere else in
Ireland. The current Rí Thoraí (Irish for King of Tory) is the
well-known painter Patsy Dan Rodgers. He has no formal powers, and some
of his duties include being a spokesperson for the island and welcoming
people to the island.
Tory island has no airport, but has regular ferry connections from
mainland County Donegal. The
Tory Island ferry travels daily from April to October
and five times a week for the rest of the year. The ferry does not take
cars, but holds up to 70 passengers.
During the winter months the boat is sometimes unable to cross due to
rough seas but from November to March there is a small 4-seater
helicopter that does a run from Falcarragh to Tory every other Thursday
Places of interest
Tory's spectacular cliff scenery is complemented by a rich and varied
history which is related in the islanders distinctive Gaelic. Colmcille
figures prominently in the history of this sacred island which he chose
as a place of retreat and meditation for his monks. Shipwrecks, poitín
smuggling and tales of violent storms have also been drawn into its
Despite its small size,
Tory Island is rich in historical and
1. Balor's Fort: Located on the eastern side of the island, the
peninsula is surrounded on three sides by 90m-high cliffs, and is
virtually impregnable. Balor's fort is only accessible by crossing a
narrow isthmus, defended by four earthen embankments.
2. View from Dún Bhaloir An Eochair Mhór (The big key) is a long,
steep-sided spur jutting from the east side of the peninsula and ending
in a crag called An Tor Mór (the big rock).
3. Saighdiúirí Bhaloir (Balor's soldiers): An Eochair Mhór has prominent
rocky pinnacles known as Balor's soldiers. They give the spur a
'toothed' appearance, hence the name, The Big Key.
4. The Wishing Stone' is a precipitous flat-topped rock beside the
northern cliff-face of Balor's Fort. Traditionally, a wish is granted to
anyone foolhardy enough to step onto the rock, or who succeeds in
throwing three stones onto it.
5. The Bell Tower is the largest structure to have survived the
destruction of the monastery - which was founded on Tory in the 6th
century by Colmcille. The monastery dominated life on Tory until 1595,
when it was plundered and destroyed by the English, waging a war of
suppression against local chieftains. The tower was built in the 6th or
6. The Tau Cross (a t-shaped cross) is believed to date from the 12th
century. It is one of only two Tau crosses in Ireland (the other in
Kilnaboy, County Clare).
7. Móirsheisear (Grave of the Seven): Móirsheisear, which actually
translates as 'big six' — an archaic term for seven — is the tomb of
seven people, six men and one woman, who drowned when their boat
capsized off Scoilt an Mhóirsheisear (the cleft of the seven) on the
island's northwest coast. According to local superstition, clay from the
woman's grave has the power to ward off vermin.
8. The Lighthouse, standing at the west end of the island, was built
between 1828 and 1832 to a design by George Halpin, a noted designer of
Irish lighthouses. In April 1990 the lighthouse was automated. The
lighthouse is one of three in Ireland in which a reference station for
the Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) is installed.
9. The Torpedo: A torpedo can be seen midway between An Baile Thiar and
An Baile Thoir. It washed ashore during World War II and was defused and
erected at its present location.
Ultimately, it is neither the myths, the monastic ruins nor even the
majestic cliffs which make the deepest impression on visitors to Tory.
It is the islanders themselves, like all people who live in remote
places and work hard to make a living, the islanders know how to enjoy
themselves and they always make a stranger feel at home.
Access to Tory is by
Tory Island Ferry from either Bunbeg or Magheraroarty - both are approximately one hours drive from Letterkenny
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