Tory Islanders - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The subsistence economy of Tory is of the "crofter" type: basic agriculture on small plots averaging 2-3 acres planted with potatoes, barley, oats, and hay, supplemented by garden produce, poultry, some sheep, a few cattle, donkeys (for plowing), and inshore fishing from small coracles. Larger boats were built in the late nineteenth century, and a herring-curing station was opened by the Congested Districts Board. This fishing industry employed 100 men and boys and most of the women and girls. Kelp (an algae from which iodine is extracted) was gathered and dried. These industries declined and lobster is now the main cash crop, with winter migrant labor providing capital for the summer lobster season.

Industrial Arts. The islanders build their own boats from imported materials. Houses formerly were built from local stone and thatched, but more recently commercial concrete blocks are imported and roofs are slated. Farm implements were ingeniously constructed from driftwood and iron scavenged from wrecks. When sheep were plentiful, wool was carded and spun, and then knitted—there were no looms. Illicit whiskey (poteen) was distilled from barley. Today clothing, implements, etc. are bought from the mainland. Even so, the shore is still meticulously divided by lot each year so that the flotsam and jetsam can be harvested.

Trade. The major cash crop is fish, but it was hard to get fresh fish to market in time. The curing station solved this problem, but when the herring moved and the station was abandoned the islanders turned to inshore lobster fishing, with contracts from continental lobster trawlers, which also provide the pots.

Division of Labor. Traditionally the division of labor was strictly by gender: the men and boys fished and did the heavy agricultural and building work; the women and girls attended to the domestic chores, the children, the poultry, and the Gardens. The curing station provided the first female wage work. When migrant laboring began after World War II, it was the men who left the island. Recently the unmarried women have started leaving. The traditional division of labor still exists. A few specialists now exist in the shops and government positions.

Land Tenure. Traditional land tenure was on the "rundale" system, usually described as a group of blood kin holding land "in common." The mechanics of this are obscure, but the Tory system suggests the following: it is a system of usufruct in which all the heirs of the "owner" have a claim on the use of his or her land, but all do not pursue the claim. They leave one of their number to farm it. On the owner's death, the land would go to the immediate heirs, but in default of heirs it would revert to the next closest descendants of the original owner. The fragmentation associated with Systems of partible inheritance is avoided by the concept of the "land of the marriage." When a couple marries, it is provided with a basic amount of land from the patrimony of one or the other set of parents. A brother, for example, who marries a woman with land, is not supposed to claim land from his Siblings. The idea is that each household, not each person, should end up with much the same amount of land, and this ideal is surprisingly well realized. Official records show a Dominance of male "owners," but questioning about claims showed that 33 percent of land was in female hands. Women are less likely than men to press claims, but have equal rights to the use of the land.

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