Tory Islanders - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. The islanders are all practicing Roman Catholics, but church authority is weak. They are certainly devout and attend to all the religious observances. There is a pilgrimage ( turus ) with stations of the cross completing a circuit of the island. The island is sacred to St. Columba and very proud of its association with the saint. There is a whole literature of prayers and cures and Several shrines. Only since about 1880 has there been a Permanent priest on the island, and the moral authority of the church has yet to take hold. The curates all deplore the casual attitude to illegitimacy and marriage, to little avail. The Islanders supplement their orthodox beliefs with rich lore Concerning legendary gods, ghosts, and fairies. In the absence of a priest, the oldest member of the Duggan family, which in legend welcomed Columba to the island, leads the flock in prayers at an ancient stone altar.

Arts. There are few plastic arts on the island. The main arts are singing, storytelling, and traditional Irish dancing. Much pride is taken in performance. The telling of stories varies from the classical myth cycles, told by the older men, to fairy and ghost stories, told by the old women, and anecdotes about island life and history, told by anyone. Many islanders are excellent musicians, playing the fiddle, accordion, banjo, and tin whistle.

Medicine. This is now officially administered by a resident nurse, but is supplemented by herbal cures, spells, midwifery, and prayers known to the old women. In the past this was the only medicine available.

Death and Afterlife. The islanders subscribe to the Official Catholic beliefs, but they supplement them with an active belief in ghosts, who are supposed to be souls in purgatory working out their time of penance. They are rarely harmful, but are an omen of death. A major festival is that of All Souls' Eve when a meal is left out overnight so that dead souls may feast on its essence. When an old person dies, the attitude is that a soul that has lived its allotted span is being taken to eternal life, and this is celebrated by a wake to console the relatives and to keep the newly dead spirit away from the house.

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Jonathan Mason
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May 14, 2013 @ 7:07 am
Under Arts, it is important to include the Tory Island painters, inspired by Derek Hill, who used to spend much time on the island, staying in the tiny hut at the Coastguard radio Station, near the lighthouse at the western extremity of the Island. Islander James Dixon, looking over the artists shoulder as he worked, commented that he could do as well himself. Hill set him up with paints and was impressed with the result. That was in 1958, and soon other islanders followed under Hill's encouragement. Rather than teach the rules of academic painting, Hill encouraged the islanders to paint as they wished, and so a tradition of very colourful 'naive' painting was born on the island, with parallels to a similar tradition in Cornwall. The Tory Island painters have established an international reputation.

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