Legends of the Torry Islanders
SOME ACCOUNT OF THE LEGENDS OF THE TORRY
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
"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.