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Tory Island: the Cow, the King, and the Fairy Rabbit.
The craggy shape of Tory dominates the skyline visible from the coast of Donegal. Six long miles of Atlantic separate it from the nearest port, and stories abound concerning this epic journey, not long ago negotiated regularly in small round-hulled curraghs. There have been people on the island for five thousand years, and they still retain a fierce individualism. Many Donegal locals have lived their lives without ever visiting its wind-swept shores.
The cow has always been held in highest esteem in Donegal as a source of life and wealth. It is considered bad luck for visitors to go into your byres for, if they were to look at your cows, it would result in "drochla march" (pronounced drokla-awark), or bad milk. What ignominy befalls the listener then, when, preserved in a song, the story of a cow’s crossing to Tory tells of how the recalcitrant heifer was dragged to Magheroarty pier on the mainland and tied behind a boat. Straining on its rope the whole way, it was dragged through the lashing waves out to the island, where it lay exhausted on the pier at West Town for a whole week, barely lifting its head. Locals say that, on a wild night (and there are no shortage of them on Tory), you can still hear her, roaring and swimming on the waves.
Tory has, to this day, its own King, Patsy-Dan Rogers, very much alive and well and running a pub on the island. Times weren’t always easy for landlords, however, as “Poitín” (pronounced por-cheen), or illegal liquor, used to be brewed in the local’s homes. At nights on Tory it was quite common to hear sounds like gunshots all over the island - it was only the sound of corks popping on the bottles of Potín!
The very earth of Tory is said to have magical properties. You will never have rats if you scatter Tory soil around your house - there are no rats on Tory. Unlike the coerced cow, they never made the six-mile swim! An old legend has it that one day two men set sail from Tory in a curragh for an evening’s fishing, when a dreadful storm overtook them. What did they see in the bow of their curragh but a rabbit, perfectly still and fixing them with an eerie eye. No sooner had they spied the rabbit than a huge wave overturned them. Managing to drag themselves and their craft back to shore, they told the story that it surely was no natural rabbit they had seen that night - it was a faery rabbit, and it was trying to drown them, surely. It did not succeed, they assured themselves, because there was a grain of the blessed earth of Tory in the curragh.
Nowadays, of course, there is a regular ferry to Tory, but only this year a helicopter had to take out supplies to the islanders in the first week of the new millenium, for the seas were so rough. The islanders are less forgotten about and neglected these days - they even got their own street lighting a few years back! Up till then, journeys back from the pub in the evenings had to be made as a quick succession of 100-yard sprints when the beam of the lighthouse lit up the road ahead! There has always been a lot of pedestrian traffic on Tory in the wee hours of the morning, and not all of it alcoholic, for the lack of space to build houses meant that, traditionally, when a Tory man and woman got married, each would remain in their family home.
A visit to Donegal is rounded off perfectly with a trip to Tory, and should you come and visit us we will endeavour to get you out to the island for a day, sea conditions permitting.
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