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Introducing Tory Island

Swept by sea winds and stung by salt spray, the remote crag of Tory Island (Oileán Thóraí) has taken its fair share of batterings. With nothing to shield it from savage Atlantic storms, it's a tribute to the hardiness of Tory Islanders that the island has been inhabited for more than 4500 years. Although it's only 11km north of the mainland, the rough sea has long consolidated the island's staunch independence.

So it's no surprise that Tory is one of the last places in Ireland to hold onto traditional Irish culture instead of simply paying lip service to it. The island has its own dialect of Irish and even has an elected 'king', who acts as community spokesman and welcomes visitors to the island. Over the decades its inhabitants earned a reputation for distilling and smuggling contraband poitín (a peaty whiskey). However, the island is perhaps best known for its 'naive' (or outsider) artists, many of whom have attracted the attention of international collectors.

In 1974, after an eight-week storm that lashed the island mercilessly, the government made plans to evacuate Tory permanently. Father Diarmuid Ó Peícín came to the rescue, spearheading an international campaign to raise funds, establish a proper ferry service, install an electrical supply and more. The demise of the fishing industry has brought its own share of problems, but the community still doggedly perseveres.

The island has just one pebbly beach and two recognisable villages: West Town (An Baile Thiar), home to most of the island's facilities, and East Town (An Baile Thoir).