Access to Tory is by Tory Island Ferry from Magheraroarty and Bunbeg (Phone: 00353 (0) 74 9531320/9531340).
Tory Island is a tiny island just 4km/2 and a half miles long and 1.2km/three quarters of a mile wide sitting the Atlantic Ocean 11km/7 miles off the north coast of County Donegal. It can be reached by one of two ferries which run on a daily basis (weather permitting) from either Magheroarty or Bunbeg. The ferry journey takes about 40 minutes and is for foot passengers only as you can’t bring a car to the island (you won’t need it anyway as there is only one road).
A helicopter also visits the island once every two weeks bringing a doctor from the mainland to the island health centre and spare seats can be sold to visitors seeking a visit to Tory. But although a quick visit is possible, we would recommend a minimum two night stay to try to see and experience all that Tory has to offer.
The island gets its name either from the Irish for rock ~ tor, or perhaps for the Irish for robber (pirate) ~ torai. The first meaning refers to the cliffs and rocks that surround Tory and the second version refers to the first inhabitants of Tory, and indeed all of Ireland, the Fomorians, a sea faring band of pirates said to be decendents of Noah. Their king was Balor who was known as Balor of the Evil Eye or Balor of the Mighty Blows. At the far east coast of the island lies the ruins known as Balor’s Fort.
Tory is an island of great beauty, rich in history and mythology and a place that time has almost forgotten. For anyone wanting to see a little piece of Heaven and experience a more easy going and gentle way of life, even for a short period, Tory is the place to go.
Of course there are most of the usual modern day ‘needs’ there: internet service; phones; TVs and the like, but it still retains a special aura of bygone times. The people of the island are friendly and welcoming and although their native tongue is Gaelic, they are perfectly happy to converse in English to those who can’t speak Irish. There are people of great talent there ~ artists, musicians, dancers and they are all willing to share with visitors their rich heritage.
They know too how to enjoy life as anyone who has ever attended a celie there will verify. The music, dancing and craic can last until daybreak and everyone joins in, even the visitors. It’s a great place to go to learn about Irish culture and ways , indeed many people travel to Tory particularly to improve their Gaelic (Irish).
The views on and from Tory are amazing ~ just gazing over the cliffs into the churning Atlantic crashing off the jagged rock formations many feet below is truly breathtaking. Walk along Tory’s only road with views of stunning almost moonscapre grainte strewn land to the east of the iland leading to the cliff edges and then to the west of the island with it’s distinctive lighthouse and the waves crashing onto the low shore front. Artists, photographers and those who simply enjoy beautiful scenery will love this island.
The island consists of cliffs on the north side, granite coastline which rises gradually to the pink quartzine high tors on the far north east of the island, the highest being Tor Mor which is approximately 35 meters/115 feet high (WARNING: These areas are dangerous during winds and the edges, being grassy, can be extremely slippy so great care must be taken when exploring this part of the island).
The south of the island is mainly rocky shoreline with with two small lakes, one of which is saline, Loch O’Dheas (south lake), which is one of the few natural lagoons in Ireland. The other lake at this end of the island is a fresh water lake, Loch O Thuaidh (north lake).
An Loch O Thoir (east lake) is at the other end of the island. There are no rivers and very few trees – some say none at all but there are a few large bushes which may just about be called small trees.
Tory does however boast a huge selection of plant life. On the cliffs to the north of the island can be found Red Fescue, Scot’s Lovage, Sea Mayweed, Sea Kale, Survygrass, and Thrift. Around the lakes plants such as Bog Pondweed, Bristle Club-rush, Bulbous Rush, Common Cottongrass, Common Spike-rush, Floating Club-rush, Marsh Pennywort, Sharp-flowered Rush and Water-purslane grow. Other plants found on Tory are Bell Heather, Common Birds Foot, Curled Dock, Fucus Spiralis, Heather, Heath-grass, Marsh Pennywort, Meadow Buttercup, Redshank, Sea Sandwort, Sea-milkwort, Speer-leaved Orach, Silverweed, Tormentil, Trefoil, Velvet Bent, Wild Angelica and Yorkshire Fog.
Being the only inhabited Irish island to have been designated a Special Protection Area for birds by the E.U., the island has an abundant bird community,. The cliffs play host to a variety of species: fulmars, great black-backed gulls, guillemots, herring gulls, kittiwakes, Manx shearwaters, peregrin falcons, puffins, ravens, razorbills, shags, and storm petrels. Other birds found on the island include arctic tern, chough, dunlin, Eider ducks, lapwing, little tern, oystercatcher, pheasant, redshank, ringed plover, snipe, tree sparrow, and wheatear. Added to these the corncrake population is increasing on the island as Tory offers it a safe place for nesting, there being no natural predators (foxes, rats, stoats, etc.) and little use of farm machinery. Some other rare species which have been noted on Tory include: arctic warbler, arctic redpoll, great grey shrike, olivacerous warbler, paddyfield warbler, rustic bunting and the yellow-breasted bunting.
In the seas around Tory there can be found various species of both shark and whale together with grey seals and common seals. On the island itself can be found pigmy shrews, wood mice, and rabbits – indeed we spotted a number of wild black rabbits, they obviously being descendants of an escaped pet rabbit at some time.
Tory is unique too in that it is the only remaining island of Ireland that still has it’s own king, currently Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí (Patsy Dan Rodgers) and he makes every effort to greet the ferries arriving into Tory and welcome the visitors to the island.