A 45-minute ferry ride is all that is needed to experience a world still steeped in native Irish language, custom, and tradition. Such a place is Tory Island, the most remote of Ireland's inhabited islands. Tory Island supports a population of 200 people and retains the tradition of electing a King.
Current king, Patsy Dan Rogers, greets every one who arrives to the island, is eager to offer stories and tales, myths and legends, then says good bye to those on each departing ferry. Irish persists here as the spoken language and there is a vibrant tradition of native Irish music, song, and dance. Aside from being reminiscent of a by-gone era, Tory Island is famous for something else: its wildlife. Internationally important for its birds-including the threatened corn crake and colonies of rare cliff nesting seabirds-Tory Island has been named a protected area by the EU and the Irish government.
The name "Tory" (rock of the king) is believed to go back to prehistory when mythical king of the gigantic race called Formorians inhabited the island. According to Celtic legend, Balor, a giant Cyclops whose one eye gave him evil powers, knew of a prophecy which said he would be killed by his grandson. He locked away his only daughter to ensure that he would have no grandsons. His efforts proved unsuccessful when Daughter Eithne gave birth to triplets (fathered by neighboring king of the T'uatha de Danaan). Balor was so enraged that he killed the Danaan high king, then threw the three babies off one of the island's cliffs (Dun Bh Aloir). One of the babies, though, was miraculously cushioned and covered by seaweed. He was rescued by the T'uatha de Danaan where he grew and thrived...and vowed to get revenge. The child known as Lugh became the most powerful god of the legendary T'uatha de Danaan and killed Balor by piercing his eye with a staff.
The earliest evidence of life on Tory Island dates back to 2500 BC. The island is scattered with ancient cairns, dolmens, megalithic tombs, and relics. One of only two Tau crosses in Ireland stands close to Tory Island's pier and dates from the 12th century.
Tory Island is a rugged, unspoiled, beautiful island like no other in Ireland. With its traditions, wildlife sanctuary, artists' communities, and daily festivities, it offers a truly unique experience. Craft shops with handmade woollens, traditional Irish instruments, local artwork by Tory Island artists dot the island and give tourists many opportunities to purchase treasured keepsakes of their visit. Hotels, hostels, and B&B's also available for long or short stays.
How to get there: Ferry
The Tory Island Ferry
T: 074 953 1320 ferry and tour booking
T: 074 913 5502 accommodation only
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007