Saturday 24 March 2018

'Tory Island is at risk of extinction' - Islanders fear for future as row over new ferry deepens

Spectacular cliffs line the promontory of Dún Balair on Tory Island.
Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
Spectacular cliffs line the promontory of Dún Balair on Tory Island. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)

Sean Nolan

The introduction of a new ferry service to serve Tory Island could lead to the 'extinction' of the community according to a group of concerned islanders.

'Mná Thorai' claim that a new ferry service, due to begin on April 1, is unsuitable for the islands needs and could lead severely impact the lives of those who live on the lisland.

Tory Island, home to approximately 150 people, is located nine miles off the coast of Donegal and it is currently served by a ferry called 'An Tor Mór', run by Turasmara Teo.

It has ferried residents, tourists, goods and post to and from the island for 26 years but from April 1 a ferry that served the Aran Islands since the 1970s, 'Queen of Aran', will take over the service.

Mná Thorai claim that the 42-year-old ferry is unsuitable for the waters off the Donegal coast and that it is too large to dock at Magheroarty Pier, the Donegal pier where the ferry departs for the island. If they use a second port, An Bun Beag, the journey will be 20 to 30 minutes longer.

Mná Thorai say that the new ferry puts the island "at risk of extinction" as it is only suitable for the "sheltered journey" from Doolin in Clare to the Aran Islands.

Niamh Duggan of Mná Thorai told that one family have already decided to leave the island this weekend rather than use the new service and she believes that almost half the island's population are making plans to leave.

"Between 50 and 80 people are making plans to leave," Niamh said. "Some have told me they would rather jump in the water than get on that vessel. Nobody from the island will get on that ferry."

The Tor Mor ferry (image via Niamh Duggan)
The Tor Mor ferry (image via Niamh Duggan)

The boat is currently being refitted in Killlybegs but the group say that it will "never be fit for the weather conditions and high seas" between Donegal and Tory which can be "treacherous" as they can be exposed to the "full swell of the Atlantic".

The group say the situation is "heartbreaking" for the island.

"It’s devastating for the whole community; for the elderly who have spent their whole lives on the island and young people and students alike who have left the island for work and college, as it prohibits any possibilities of their returning to the island in future. Businesses are also suffering as well as the two schools on the island. Ostán Thoraí will remain shut this Easter due to the uncertainty with the ferry issue. Teachers who only live on Tory during the week will be unable to keep their jobs. What about the children’s rights to education?"

In a statement on their website, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said the new ferry was chosen after an open tender competition and that the new service will offer "considerable improvement" on the current service citing features on the new ferry such as as a lift for those with impaired mobility, faster transit with more capacity, a bus service between piers in Donegal used when the weather is too bad to use Magheroarty and additional cargo services.

The Department have also committed to build a new vessel for the island within three years, develop the pier at Magheroarty to fit any new vessel and subsidise provision of a new fast ferry option alongside the 'Queen of Aran' service.

However, the islanders have vowed to continue to raise their concerns about the new vessel and its potential impact on island life.

The Queen of Aran (Image via Niamh Duggan)
The Queen of Aran (Image via Niamh Duggan)

Niamh Duggan said: "I am in Galway for college. This new ferry prohibits me from returning to my home. It is unsuitable for this crossing."

Some islanders, including the 'King of Tory' Patsy Dan Rodgers, protested about the new ferry outside Leinster House earlier this year and a petition called 'Save Tory' has garnered over 1,500 signatures.

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