North West Ireland Tourism
Visitor Guide to Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Roscommon, Leitrim, Cavan & Monaghan
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Tory Island

Just 4 miles long and a mile wide (6km x 2km) Tory Island the most remote of Ireland's inhabited islands is situated just northwest of Horn Head and can be reached by ferry from Magheraroarty or Bunbeg on the mainland. It derives from the Gaelic Toraigh meaning the high rocky cliffs. This Irish speaking island has been inhabited since the earliest times and is rich in archaeological and monastic sites. The island's remote location has helped it preserve the Irish language and traditions and general way of life of the place.

The boat trip to beautiful Tory Island is not just a panoramic sea-trip from Bunbeg to one of Ireland’s most unique island communities. It is a journey through time to visit the most remote of Ireland’s inhabited islands, where time seems to have stood entirely still. Tory Island is an island of great mystery and antiquity. It had been continuously inhabited since the earliest of times, and is rich in archaeological and monastic sites from the Iron Age and Early Christian periods. Surviving harsh winters, “Toraigh” islanders are extraordinarily resilient and independent. Many of Tory’s ancient customs survive intact to this day, such as the wonderful tradition of appointing an island King, or “Rí Thoraí”. The unique story-telling, music, song and dance traditions of the island are vibrant expressions of a distinctive and thriving island culture.

A visit to Tory Island is an adventure into Ireland’s past. Enjoy its rugged beauty, dive in its crystal-clear waters, or explore its carefully nurtured Celtic heritage. Meet the people of Tory Island, including its elected King in the unbelievably informal surroundings of the “Céilí” club. Meet the island’s community of artisans, and view its distinct brand of traditional crafts. Follow the islands rare bird populations, and enjoy its ancient monastic sites.

Tory Island is a remote and craggy island lying eight miles off Bloody Foreland on the northwest Donegal coast. It supports a tenacious population of almost 200 souls. The islanders live in two clustered settlements, “An Baile Thiar” (West Town), and “An Baile Thoir” (East Town). Tory Island’s spectacular cliff scenery is complemented by a rich and varied history.
Interesting historical sites include a round tower used to help protect monks from Viking raids, the ruins of St. Colmcile's 6th century monastery and the Tau Cross that indicated possible farming links to the Christians of Egypt in early times.

The island was first occupied more than 4,500 years ago, and a very fine Neolithic dolmen gives a glimpse of that period to this day. The Iron Age promontory fort of Dun Bhaloir is said to have been the stronghold of Balor na Suile Nimhe (Balor of the Evil Eye), a mythical warlord prominent in the island’s folk memory. A Christian monastery was founded on Toraigh in the 6th century by St Colmcille, who hailed from nearby Gartan. The monastery managed the island’s farming and fishing but suffered repeated raids by roaming pirates. It survived until 1595, when it was ransacked and substantially destroyed.

The rout of Donegal’s Gaelic chieftains led to some followers seeking refuge on Tory Island in 1608 – but they were pursued, and 60 were put to the sword in a massacre still bitterly recalled by the islanders. In 1655, John Stafford, a Cromwellian officer, was made owner of Tory Island and the islanders were forced to pay rent and taxes, though largely remaining a law unto themselves. They lived in two ‘clachan’ settlements surrounded by their best arable land, and tilled it communally.  Toraigh retained the ‘clachan and rundale’ system long after it was lost elsewhere, and a rare surviving example of a fan-shaped infield can still be seen.

Small farming blossomed with the introduction of the potato, and the population rose to 400 prior to the famine of 1845. The potato blight did not reach Toraigh, but the rise in population meant that small holdings grew ever smaller. Now the islanders were living in abject poverty and they began refusing to pay their rates. In 1884, a British gunboat, HMS Wasp, was dispatched to collect arrears, but it foundered just off the island with the loss of 52 lives. To this day the islanders attribute this sea tragedy to the powers of their “Cursing Stone”. Indeed, all manner of tales of shipwrecks and “poitin” smuggling fill their folklore.

The islanders increasingly earn their livings from tourism, along with small farming and fishing, and people are now drifting back to homes they left 20 or more years ago. Tory is a popular retreat for artists, and the geography and location of the island makes it an ideal destination for the ornithologist wishing to study the many species of sea birds

Visitors to the island can enjoy Scuba diving, waymarked walking trail, cycling, sea angling, rock climbing, bird watching, dolphin & whale watching & traditional music.

How to get to Tory Island

Donegal Coastal Cruises (Turasmara) provides a daily ferry service to Tory which departs from An Bun Beag and Machaire Rabhartaigh depending on the time of year. A second ferry service, Toraigh na dTonn, operates from Machaire Rabhartaigh during the summer months.

Donegal Coastal Cruises
Tel: +353 (0)74 9531320

Toraigh na dTonn
Tel: +353 (0)74 9135920

Where to stay near Tory Island

Tory Island has fine selection of places to stay nearby including hotels, hostels, self-catering holiday homes, guesthouses and B&B's.

Book Tory Island Accommodation

Explore more

Tory is accessed by way of Falcarragh which is, in turn, surrounded by beautiful coastal towns. Don't miss Dunfanaghy and Downings if you are travelling east, and Bloody Foreland and Kincasslagh if travelling west.

Things to do in Tory Island

  1. Walk around the island and see its cliff scenery, panoramic views of the Donegal coastline, rare birds, and wildflower species. Meet the people of Toraigh and visit the monastic sites. A booklet is available from Comharchumann Thorai Teoranta describing the sights and their history.
  2. Dive Tory (Toraigh Faoi Thonn) is a diving centre with shore-diving locations just minutes away. They vary from sheltered, shallow coves through to wall and wreck dives.
  3. Go deep-sea angling for cod, ling, conger eel, pollock, wrasse, skate, turbot and plaice. For group bookings, contact Toraigh na d’Tonn.
  4. The island is internationally important for its birdlife, particularly the globally threatened corncrake, which nests in the hayfields each summer.
  5. There are colonies of seabirds on the cliffs, with puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes. The cliffs also hold peregrines and choughs. Arctic tern, little tern, dunlin and common gull nest at and near the lakes. Toraigh has a small tree sparrow colony. Eider duck, Lapland bunting and snow bunting are regular visitors. Exotic vagrants from northern Europe, North America and Siberia make landfall here, particularly in autumn. Rarities have included short-toed lark, paddy field warbler, olivaceous warbled arctic warbler, great grey shrike, arctic redpoll, rustic bunting, yellow-breasted bunting, etc.
  6. Minke whale, killer whale, Risso’s dolphin, harbour porpoise, basking shark and some unidentified large whales have all been seen off Toraigh.
  7. Visit the hotel and the social club for traditional music, song, dance and storytelling. Toraigh has many accomplished sean-nos singers, melodeon players and traditional dancers, and ceilis are held regularly in the club. Musicians are always welcome in Toraigh.
  8. A festival is held in August each year celebrating Toraigh music, song, dance, story-telling. A film festival was held in 2005, celebrating Toraigh’s links with the sea. For details, contact Comharchumann Thorai Teo

Tory Island Map

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