Tory Island & Tullaghobegley

Tory view © Janek Kloss

Head to north-west Donegal to discover Tory Island and its traditional links with Colmcille.

Nine miles across the Tory Sound, Tory is the most remote of Ireland’s inhabited islands. It is just 2 1/2 miles long and 3/4 mile wide, and is home to over 100 people.

The island has a long history of human inhabitation and has archaeology dating back to the Iron Age. There are also Christian remains dating back to early medieval times.

Tory Island is also home to the mythical Balor of the Mighty Blows - a one-eyed king. The eye was so evil that it had to be kept covered. A prophecy told that Balor would be killed by his grandson so he locked his only daughter Eithne in a big stone tower - Tor Mór. But Eithne still managed to produce a son - Lúgh - who fulfilled the prophecy by killing his grandfather.

Lúgh is taken as a symbol of goodness and light fighting against the evil Balor. He was known in many parts of Celtic Europe as a powerful god. It seems likely that in Christian times some of the attributes of Lugh were transferred to the character of Colmcille.

Getting there...

The Tory ferry service runs from the pier at Magheroarty - Machaire Rabhartaigh. The timetable changes according to the season and crossings can be cancelled at short notice due to changing weather so please check before you travel.

Please note that the ferry is passenger-only.

From Letterkenny, take the N56 towards Dunfanaghy. Continue on through Falcarragh and Gortahork. Past Gortahork follow the R257 coast road to Magheroarty. There is parking by the pier.

Coming from Gweedore, take the R258 towards the coast at Bunbeg and turn right on to the R257 following the road round to Magheroarty.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.1 An Chros Tau

    As you arrive in Tory the first site to greet you is the Tau Cross. Sitting high on a plinth, the T-shaped stone cross is a symbol of the island’s Christian heritage.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.2 The Old Graveyard

    The graveyard is believed to be on the site of an Teampull Buí - the main church of a monastic settlement on Tory.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.3 The Bell Tower

    The Bell Tower is the only surviving round tower in Donegal. Although nearly 13 metres tall it is among the smallest of such structures in Ireland. Its date is not known but could be as late as the 12th century.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.4 St John's Altar

    This altar dedicated to St John the Baptist is just beside the Bell Tower. There are a number of stones here - including a stone trough, decorated stones and slabs, a quern (millstone) and the remains of the base of a cross.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.5 St Brigid's Oratory

    The stone altar of St Brigid lies between the islanders’ houses. On top of the altar are three quern stones (used for grinding corn) and two granite slabs.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.6 Church of the Seven

    These are the only chapel remains on Tory Island. Móirsheisear translates as ‘big six’ which is an old Irish word for the number seven.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.7 Rock of the Hound

    Local tradition says that when Colmcille first set foot on Tory, he was met by the local king, Oilill who refused to let him land.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.8 Cnoc na Naomh

    Local legend says that Colmcille stood on this hill - Cnoc na Naomh - with his companions Saints Fionán, Dubthach and Begley.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.9 Ray Church

    This extraordinary 5 1/2 metre high cross stands inside the ruins of Ray Church. It was found broken in the graveyard outside the church, rebuilt and erected inside the church walls for protection.

  • Kilmory Knap Chapel carved graveslabs

    2.10 Tullaghobegley

    The ruins of the late medieval Tullaghobegley Church and its graveyard lie on a small mound just to the south of Falcarragh. This tullach - or ‘low hill’ or ‘mound’ - was probably originally a place used for tribal inauguration ceremonies.