Monday, September 2, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 27 July 2013, Tory Island, Donegal, Ireland

Thunderstorm approaching the coast of Donegal
(click photos to enlarge)

Tory artists and artifacts aplenty, but no King

Leaving Mulroy Bay
Someday we'd like to come tour Mulroy Bay by small boat. It's supposed to be the most wild waterway in Ireland. From what we could see, I'd say that's true. But today we were heading off again.

It was yet another calm day but thunderstorms were forecast.  We hauled our anchor in Mulroy Bay destined for Gola in Donegal, but en route we decided to stop in Tory Island.  We are very glad we did.
Exiting Mulroy Bay
There were squalls and thunderstorms all around us and we kept thinking we’d get caught, but we somehow managed to miss them all except one little one.  There was  a persistent light rain which welcomed us back to Ireland. We’d had little rain in Scotland for almost an entire month.  The clouds made for a beautiful sky and we enjoyed the transit to Tory along the rugged coast of Donegal. 

Approaching Tory Island
Tory is a small, relatively flat island  about 9 miles off the coast with only 96 inhabitants in 2010.  The outer anchorage at Tory is only tenable in settled conditions. It is wide open and strewn with many anchor-eating rocks. Setting a trip line here is essential.  There is a new pier (purportedly cost €10M) which forms a shallow (2m at MLW) protected harbour.  It’s good for small vessels and RIBs but not for the likes of Aleria.  We stayed out in the open outer harbour and kept a close watch.  There is a ferry that comes in daily, and there were day trippers here by small craft from the mainland. 

Exposed 'anchorage'
We left the dinghy at the stairs of the pier, and took a walk along the ‘main street’. There were quite a few people milling about. We strolled over the cafe and craft shoppe, where we found a few local crafts and very good island guides. The main language spoken on Tory is Irish, but once again, people readily spoke English to us.  It is part of the Donegal Gaeltacht, and the dialect spoken is Ulster Irish.  It's interesting how many versions of Irish still exist and how different they are from one another. 

Tory is known primarily for two things: monastic remains and an artist colony.  Tory is rich in, you guessed it, St. Columba’s ruins.  It was one of the stops along the monastic/trade route.  There is a Tau cross, one of only two in Ireland, the remains of Colmcille’s (St. Columba) 6th century monastery – only the ruins of a round bell tower remain, the rest destroyed by Cromwell’s troops. They apparently tried to break the Tau cross but failed.  There are also remains of chapels, including St. Brigid’s chapel, and ancient prayer stones.  

Protected shallow harbour
Lots of primitive artists have made their home in Tory, having been inspired by the patron of the Tory School of Art, the late Derek Hill. We visited a gallery of one artist.  Saw the works of a couple more. Couldn't afford to buy most of them. We walked the island in the rain looking for the King of Tory.  Yes, there is a King, elected by the people.  The current king is an artist whose reign has been long and fruitful.  They say once you meet Patsy Dan Mac Ruairi (Rodgers) you will never forget him; but alas he must have been on holiday as his house was locked up and the car behind closed gates. We left, disappointed, but not dismayed. We’ll be back.

The island is a breeding site for corn crakes, a globally threatened species.  We heard their characteristic calling, "crake crake, crake crake" in the fields. 

Welcome to Tory Island
By the way, some say that the Tory Party in Britain took its name from Tory Island. We couldn’t confirm it though. We did confirm that the battle of Tory Island between the French and British navies took place right off its shores in 1798.  It was the last time the French tried to land troops in Ireland and the last time they tried to invade any part of the British Isles. Earlier that year, General Humbert had landed a French force in Killala and marched on to a battle in Castlebar in County Mayo in an uprising mounted by the gallant Irish insurgent Wolfe Tone. But victory was not theirs, and it all ended here. 

The Tau Cross
We saw some heavy squalls over the water, and decided to seek shelter on Gola before all hell broke loose.  The leading edge of the squall can have very heavy winds that come on suddenly.  We skirted one very dark squall as we entered Gola Harbour, but the sun came out full force behind it.  We learned later that it had been a nasty one, with hail, heavy rain, thunder, and lightning bolts striking the water. Everyone had scattered. All festivities were cancelled for their annual festival, which this year was to include lectures, walks, music,  lobster feast, dedication of a new pier, a Mass on the old pier, and a blessing of the fleet. I am glad we hadn’t rushed out of Tory or we may have been in the way. 

We were invited to stay for the Mass and blessing to take place tomorrow Sunday, and asked to dress ship.  So we decided that a lay day was in order. Chilling, finally!  And now that we are back in Ireland with mobile signal, we are able to plug in our laptops and download email.  Yipee! It's interesting how disconnected we feel these days without it.

The village with round bell tower 

Classic fishing vessels

The new pier and harbour

Brightly coloured details

The local cafe and craft shoppe

The round bell tower,
remains of St. Columba's 6thC monastery

Aleria looking exposed on a very rocky shore

The artist's boat; photos were not permitted inside

Chickens on the run

A chapel ruin

Prayer stones

Teensy cottage

Hail Mary. 

The King of Tory's home

Lovely wildflower-rich meadows

Rugged mainland Donegal in the distance

Relaxing in Gola
Village life

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