Out beyond Donegal’s Bloody Foreland, almost 15 kilometres adrift from shore in the wild Atlantic ocean, sits Tory Island or Toraigh or Oileán Thúr Rí. This ancient ridge-backed settlement bears the brunt of the ferocious winds of the North Atlantic, winds which have eroded the cliffs of the island into ranks of gigantic “tors” or pillars and from these, the island gets its name, Tory, or locally, Torry. It is a part of the Donegal Gaeltacht and Ulster Irish is the main spoken language on the island.
Because the prevailing winds run parallel to the coast, the spores that spread the potato blight during the Great Famine, never quite took hold on the island. Consequently it survived into the twentieth century with a healthy population, but the intervening years, modernization and the island’s isolation have not tempted the young to remain and at last count, the number of residents had fallen below 150.
The light was established on 1st August 1832, once again at the behest of the Sligo merchants and ship owners, an obviously vocal and persuasive group of businessmen. George Halpin got to work designing the lighthouse and under his supervision the 27 metre high tower was ready to debut in less than four years. From the start, the lighthouse played a big part in the community of Tory, providing work in its construction and then in provisioning and at times in staffing the station.
The light, with it’s all seeing single eye must surely have reminded some islanders of Tory’s ancient mythology of Balor of the Evil Eye. This King of the Fomorians, a piratical race similar to the Greek Titans, terrorized the Irish coast in pre historic times and is forever associated with Tor Mór, the highest point on the island where he is said to have imprisoned his daughter Ethlinn in an attempt to avoid a druid’s prophesy that he would be killed by his own grandson. As is the way of these epics of course, the prophesy was fulfilled in an unexpected manner.
Originally, the light was fueled by oil. This was replaced by gas which was made at the station and then vapourised paraffin. Electricity came in 1972.
The tower had traditionally been painted all black, but in 1956 the present white band was added at the towers midriff. In March 1990 the lighthouse was converted to automatic operation and the keepers were withdrawn from the station.
Location: 55°16.357′ North, 08°14.964′ West.
Elevation: 40 m
Character: Fl (4) W 30 secs, Night time only
Range: 34 km
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