13. DHS - Tory Island

Aug 14, 2021, 12:08 PM

Shrine Thirteen: sacred clay in the real kingdom.
Location: 55.264055, -8.23082 (Magheroarty pier)
Speakers: Marjorie Carroll and Henry Doohan
Theme: gathering on a rock against the elements.

From the moment you see it for the first time from Magheroarty, your eyes are drawn to the magnificent island of Tory - home to the mythical Balor of the Evil Eye, the last place in Ireland with its own monarch, the late Patsy Dan Rogers, where locals have been cut off from the mainland for weeks at a time due to Atlantic storms and where the special clay ensures that no rat can survive on the island.

 Yes indeed, you are truly on hallowed ground. Historically, the Battle of Tory Island was fought on 12 October 1798 between French and British squadrons off the northwest coast of Donegal, then in the Kingdom of Ireland. The last action of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the Battle of Tory Island ended the final attempt by the French Navy to land substantial numbers of soldiers in Ireland during the war.

The island is very much a Mecca for ornithologists. Many of them come to study the different species of sea birds which have colonised the island. Cormorants, gulls, gannets, puffins, divers, oyster-catchers, terns and fulmars are all common. In addition, being so far north and so far from the mainland, Tory is a classic location for migrating birds to rest on their journey south. Moreover, the corncrake and other birds which are becoming rare even in the most unspoilt parts of the mainland, are still common in Tory. Even experienced ornithologists have been surprised by the variety of species on the island. Other great bird sites are Blanket Nook and Inch Wildlife Reserve both in Inishowen.

There could be a number of reasons for visiting a sacred place like Tory, but most noteworthy is Máirsheisear (Grave of the Seven). Máirsheisear, 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 Mháirsheisear (the cleft of the seven) on the island's northwest coast. According to local superstition, clay from the woman's grave is sacred and has the power to ward off vermin. It is is used to protect seafarers and to keep rats away from ships.

When spread, the following incantation must be said for the clay to work: 'A gheall ar Dhia agus ar naomh a d'ordaigh á, oibreoidh sá' - with God's help and that of the saint who ordered it, may it work. Lest you think all of this clay is long gone, the whole of the island's clay gained the benefit of the grave's power what with it all being connected underground. The author can testify to its potency - a rat that eluded capture by conventional means was dead within hours of the clay been put down.

Despite its small size, Tory Island has a number of historical and mythological sites: Dán 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.[14] View from Dán 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". (Saighdiúrí­ Bhaloir ) They give the spur a 'toothed' appearance and contribute to the name, "The big key".

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).

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. The lighthouse is at coordinates 55°16.357?N 8°14.964?W

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. Right, then that's surely more than enough reasons to visit this fascinating island?

URL: Tory Island Co-Op
URL: Henry Doohan

Audio taken from Donegal's Hallowed Sites on the Racontour Archive.
Spotify URL: Donegal's Hallowed Sites playlist on Spotify