Tory Island

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Tory Island
Populated place
Toraigh from the mainland
Toraigh from the mainland
Toraigh is located in Ireland
Location in Ireland
Coordinates: 55°15′45″N 8°13′00″W / 55.2626°N 8.2168°W / 55.2626; -8.2168Coordinates: 55°15′45″N 8°13′00″W / 55.2626°N 8.2168°W / 55.2626; -8.2168
Country Ireland
Province Ulster
County County Donegal
 • Dáil Éireann Donegal South–West
Population (2011)
 • Total 144
Time zone WET (UTC+0)
 • Summer (DST) IST (WEST) (UTC-1)
Area code(s) 074, +353 74
Irish Grid Reference B853466
As this is a Gaeltacht, Toraigh is the only official name.[1]

Tory Island, or simply Tory (officially known by its Irish name Toraigh),[1] is an island 14.5 km (9 mi) off the north-west coast of County Donegal in Ireland. It is also known in Irish as Oileán Thoraí or, historically, Oileán Thúr Rí.[2]


The main spoken language on the island is Irish, but English is also used for communicating with visitors to the island. Tory is part of the Donegal Gaeltacht and Ulster Irish is the main Irish dialect in use.

Geography and transport[edit]

Tory in the evening

The island is approximately 5 km (3 mi) long and 1 km (0.6 mi) wide.[3] The 2002 census recorded a population of 133.[4][5][6] The population is divided among four towns — An Baile Thoir (East Town), An Baile Thiar (West Town), An Lár (Middletown) and Úrbaile (Newtown).[2] In August 2010, the King of Tory confirmed that there were 96 people living on the island.[citation needed]

Petrol and diesel are available from Tory Oil at prices significantly higher than on the mainland.[7][not in citation given]

Tory has no airport, but has regular ferry connections from mainland County Donegal.[8] The 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.[9] During the winter months sea crossings may not be possible due to rough seas – but from November to March a small 4-seater helicopter runs from Falcarragh to Tory every other Thursday.[citation needed]


Ancient history[edit]

In the apocryphal history of Ireland, Lebor Gabála Érenn, Tory Island was the site of Conand's Tower, the stronghold of the Fomorians, before they were defeated by the Nemedians in a great battle on the island. The later Fomorian king Balor of the evil eye also lived here.[10] Balor would imprison Ethlinn in a tower built atop Tor Mór (or Túr Mór in Old Irish, meaning The High Tower). Tor Mór is the island's highest point.

A monastery was founded on Tory in the 6th century by Colmcille. The monastery dominated life on the island until 1595, when it was plundered and destroyed by English troops, waging a war of suppression against local chieftains. The monastery's bell tower is the largest structure to survive and was built in the 6th or 7th century.[citation needed]

Early modern history[edit]

In 1608 the Siege of Tory Island, one of the final incidents of O'Doherty's Rebellion, took place when a surviving group of rebels took shelter in the castle, only to begin killing each other to secure a pardon.

The Battle of Tory Island, the last action in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, took place at sea nearby.

The "king of Tory", Patsy Dan Rodgers, waiting near the harbour to welcome visitors to the island

Recent history[edit]

Since the 1950s, the island has been home to a small community of artists, and has its own art gallery. The English artist Derek Hill was associated with the Tory artist community.[11]

Reflecting a long-standing tradition, a "king" is chosen by consensus of the islanders. The current Rí Thoraí (Irish for "King of Tory") is painter Patsy Dan Rodgers (Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí). The king has no formal powers, though duties include being a spokesperson for the island community and welcoming people to the island.[12]

Tory Island Power station

Power is generated on the island today from three diesel electricity generators.[13] These have a total capacity of 4 MW and burn through approximately 500 litres of fuel every day.[citation needed]

Public attention was focused on the island in 2009, when a one-time resident was awarded a payout following a court case after his house was demolished and the grounds used as a car park.[14] In 2015 the island's only cafe was destroyed by fire.[15]


The table below reports data on Tory Island's population taken from Discover the Islands of Ireland (Alex Ritsema, Collins Press, 1999) and the census of Ireland. Censuses in Ireland before 1841 are not considered complete and/or reliable.

Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1841 399 —    
1851 402 +0.8%
1901 335 −16.7%
1951 257 −23.3%
Year Pop. ±%
1996 169 −34.2%
2002 133 −21.3%
2006 142 +6.8%
2011 144 +1.4%
Source: John Chambers. "Islands - Change in Population 1841 - 2011". Retrieved February 22, 2015. 


Tory Island has a number of historical and mythological sites:

  • Dún Bhaloir (Balor's fort) is located on the island's eastern side. This peninsula is surrounded on three sides by 90m-high cliffs. Balor's fort is only accessible by crossing a narrow isthmus, defended by four earthen embankments.[16]
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). The spur has prominent rocky pinnacles – these are known as "Balor's soldiers". (Saighdiúirí Bhaloir ) They give the spur a 'toothed' appearance and contribute to the name, "The big key".
A view of East Town (An Baile Thoir), Tory Island.
  • 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.
  • An Cloigtheach (The Bell Tower) is the largest structure to have survived the destruction of the monastery (see history section above). The tower was built in the 6th or 7th century.
  • 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).
  • 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.[16]
  • 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.[16]

Flora and fauna[edit]

The island is an Important Bird Area.[17] It is a breeding site for corn crakes (Crex crex) a globally threatened species whose numbers have fallen with the intensification of agriculture. In 2007 Tory Island recorded 18 calling males; down from a recent years maximum of 34 calling males in 2003. In addition to its indigenous bird life, the island records many vagrants.[18]

Ancient records of the flora and fauna of this island can be found in Hyndman's notes on the history of the island.[19] Algae found locally includes: Fucus vesiculosus, Fucus nodosus, Himanthalia lorea, Laminaria digitata, Rhodomenia laciniata, Plocamium coccineum, Ptilota plumosa, Conferva rupestrus, Codium tomtntosum, Codium adhaerens det Dr Harvey.[19]

The island has no trees due to its high winds.[20]

See also[edit]

References and further reading[edit]

  1. ^ a b Placenames (Ceantair Ghaeltachta) Order 2004
  2. ^ a b The Tory Islanders, a 1978 ethnographic account by R. Fox
  3. ^ A place of bewitching beautyBBC News article
  4. ^ – 2002 Census
  5. ^ Geological Survey of Ireland – Draft Groundwater Body Report – September 2005
  6. ^ Donegal County Council Report – Taobh Tíre (a better library service for rural areas) – July 2003
  7. ^ – Tory Oil, West Town, Tory Island
  8. ^ Ferries departurt from Magheroarty and Bunbeg, with occasional services from Portnablath. The shortest crossing (Magheroarty to Tory Island) takes about 45 minutes. — Official Tory Island Tourism Website – Travel details
  9. ^ Tory Island Ferry, County Donegal
  10. ^ G. H. Kinahan "Donegal Folk-lore: Ballor of the Evil Eye." The Folk-Lore Journal. Volume 5, 1894.
  11. ^ Funeral arrangements made for artist Derek HillRTÉ News article, 31 July 2000
  12. ^ "Patsy Dan Rodgers – Tory Island Artist, Musician and King of Tory, County Donegal". Retrieved 10 November 2008. 
  13. ^ The Navigator - Tory Island | island life
  14. ^ – Hotel turned film director's home into a car park – 11 Nov 2009
  15. ^ Tory Islands Cafe Destroyed by Fire
  16. ^ a b c — Official Tory Island Tourism Website – Places of Interest
  17. ^ BirdLife International (2015) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Tory Island. Downloaded from on 17/06/2015
  18. ^ Birds and Wildlife of Tory Island, leaflet published by Bird Watch Ireland
  19. ^ a b Hyndman, G.C. 1852. Notes on the natural history of Tory Island. Ulster J.Archaeol. 1: 34 – 3
  20. ^
  • Fox, R. The Tory Islanders: A People of the Celtic Fringe. University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 978-0-268-01890-0
  • Hunter, J. 2006. The Waves of Tory. Colin-Smyth Ltd. ISBN 978-0-86140-456-8
  • Williams H.G "Tory Island, County Donegal: a study on geographical isolation" Irish Geography, Dublin 1952
  • The Crosses of Tory Island, Dorothy Kelly, in Seanchas:Studies in Early and Medieval Irish Archaeology, History and Literature in Honour of Francis John Byrne, ed. Alfred P. Smyth, pp. 53–63, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2000