Legends of the Torry Islanders


Torry Island, situated on the north-west coast of Ireland, is probably the least known of any of her Majesty's European possessions. Although so near the main, the communication is difficult and infrequent. The island has but one landing-place, and that can only be entered with leading winds, while, during the prevalence of the others, it is totally unapproachable.

Within the memory of people still alive, the natives of Torry were idolaters. They were ushered into life, and quitted it for the grave, without either rite or ceremony. Marriage was, Ó la Martineau, nothing but "a civil contract," and their notions of the Deity, rude and untutored as Kamschatdales or New Zealanders. Latterly, priests from the main have occasionally landed on the island, and there introduced the formulŠ of religion; but visits dependent on winds and waves are "few and far between," and the state of Torry may still be termed more than demi-savage. When some adventurous beadsman ventures on a clerical descent, during his brief sojourn he finds that his office is no sinecure: children are to be christened by the score; and couples, who took each other's words, to be married by the dozen. During the long interregnum, a large arrear of omitted ceremonies has accrued, and the daring clerk returns from this "ultima Thule" a weary, if not a wiser man.

Nothing can be more wretched than the appearance of the island and its inhabitants: the one, cold, barren, and uncultivated; the other, ugly, dwarfish, and ill-shapen. The hovels are filthy to a degree; and all within and about Torry is so sterile and inhospitable, that a dread of being wind-bound deters even the hardiest mariner from approaching its rock-bound shores.

That "holy men" should venture among the Heathen, is, as it ought to be; and that savans will go desperate lengths to obtain bones, oyster-shells, and other valuable commodities, is equally true. For spiritual and scientific Quixotes, Torry opens an untried field; and any philosopher who can digest dog-fish, and possesses a skin impervious to entomological assaults, may here discover unknown treasures: none having yet been found—for none have sought them.

It was, probably, expectations such as these that induced the late Sir Charles Geisecke to visit this unfrequented island. Whether his geological discoveries compensated his bodily sufferings, the gentleman who perpetrated his biography leaves a scientific mystery. Certain it is, that in after-life the worthy knight never touched upon this portion of his wanderings without shuddering at the recollection.

Three days he sojourned among the aborigines, and three nights he sheltered in the chief man's hovel. He left Ards House in good spirits, and fat as a philosopher should be; and when he returned, his own dog, had he possessed one, would not have recognised his luckless owner. He came out a walking skeleton, and the ablutions he underwent would have tried the patience of a Mussulman. He had lost sleep; well, that could be made up for. He lost condition; that too might be restored. But to lose hair, to be clipped like a recruit, and have his garments burned at the point of a pitch-fork,—these indeed would daunt the courage of the most daring entomologist.

Pat Hegarty, the knight's guide, used to recount the sufferings they underwent. Their afflictions by day were bad enough; but these were nothing, compared to their nocturnal visitations. "My! what a place for fleas!" said an English femme de chambre who happened to be an accidental listener. "How numerous they must have been!"

"Numerous!" exclaimed the guide, "mona mon diaoul, if they had only pulled together, they would have dragged me out of bed!"

Since the knight's excursion, Torry has been more frequently visited. In executing the Ordnance survey, a party of Sappers and Miners were encamped upon the island, and the engineer officer in command amused many of his solitary hours by collecting traditionary tales from the narration of an old man, who was far more intelligent than the rest of the inhabitants. The two foregoing legends were taken from the patriarch's lips, and they afford an additional proof of that fondness which man, in his savage state, ever evinces for traditions that are wonderful and wild.