Tory Island, also known as Toraigh Island, has been populated for nearly four thousand years, since the time of the Neolithic farmers. This tiny, barren land mass is situated nine miles off the shore of Ireland’s northern peninsulas. It is about three miles wide and one mile long.
The ‘Tor Mor’ Ferry carries passengers to and from Tory Island on a rough sea ride that is more than an hour long. Before the invention of the helicopter, the island was extremely isolated, receiving only rare visitors.
Recently, new enterprises have been added in an effort to stimulate the island’s economy, including a successful school of painting. The islanders are uniquely artistic, creating paintings that depict island life and its landscapes while using only ordinary house paints. Their work is well known across Ireland, and has been exhibited at various venues, including Glebe House and Gallery. James Dixon, a native islander and artist, runs Dixon’s Gallery to showcase and sell Tory Island paintings.
The main attraction is the island’s round tower, which has been partially destroyed. It has a unique conical cap, made from granite with a slight pinkish hue. It is said to be cemented with the lime from seashells. Over 13 m high, the tower has endured more than one thousand years of wind and salt water.
Of the five original churches on Tory Island, only the ruins of one remain – the foundation of the Church of the Morsheisear (Seven People). There is a t-shaped cross 2m high, carved from one single stone block.
On the eastern part of Tory Island sit the remains of a walled fort known as “Dun Bhaloir” or Balor’s Fort. Balor was the one-eyed Celtic god of night and darkness.
The northeastern tip of Tory Island is the location of the Wishing Stone, thought by islanders to have the power to destroy enemies. Local folklore tells the following story: in 1884, a group of policemen on a “Wasp” British gunboat arrived and attempted to collect taxes, a foreign and unwelcome concept to the islanders at the time. They called upon the power of the stone, which sunk the boat, leaving only six of the crewmembers alive.
The inhabitants of Tory Island today are friendly, and most make their living from fishing. They speak in their own dialect, and many refer to the mainland as ‘Ireland’.
Although rather isolated, they have a pleasant and contented lifestyle.