2.9 Ray Church

Ray (pronounced ‘Rye’ in Irish, Ráith), is an ancient church site remarkable for its links with the abbey of Iona, and for its very tall high cross - 5.56m, one of the tallest if not the tallest in Ireland. The church stands on the east bank or the river Ray and near its estuary. From the 6th to the 8th centuries the river was a boundary between two small kingdoms, the Cineál Duach on the east of the river and the Cineál Lughdach on the west.

Ray cross wide shot © Alan Sproull

In the 7th century no fewer than four very important abbots of Iona came from the Cineál Duach. Almost certainly, this was their home church. The great high cross now stands inside the ruins which date mainly from the 17th century. As there is no decoration on the cross itself it is difficult to date it but it bears a striking similarity to the form and scale of St John's Cross on Iona (of about AD 775) – arguably the oldest of the ringed (so-called 'Celtic') stone crosses in these islands – and may be contemporary with it. An elaborate legend says that the Ray cross was made on Muckish mountain for St Colmcille who intended to bring it to Tory Island but gave it instead as a gift to the local saint, Fionán, who had miraculously retrieved the Colmcille's lost gospel book. In modern times, until recently, the cross – fallen and broken – lay in the adjoining graveyard probably at or close to its original location.

 

Getting there

From Machaire Rabhartaigh take the N56 back towards Falcarragh. Pass through the town and keep going for about ½ mile.

After crossing Ray Bridge take the first turn on the left. The church is at the end of the road.


 
   
  • 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.