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The Most Northern Part of Southern Ireland

Updated: Jun 12, 2022

The island of Ireland is split into two parts—Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which is a country unto its own. Because the UK part is referred to as Northern, the Republic is sometimes referred to as Southern Ireland. Yet the most northern part of the island of Ireland is in the Republic. And that’s Malin Head in County Donegal, the first stop on our expedition anti-clockwise around Ireland. For this part of the trip we were joined by Donegal local, John McGroary.

We took a short walk on the “Wild Atlantic Way” to view the rugged coastline, tall cliffs, colorful wildflowers, and soaring European gannets. As I looked down from the northernmost point, I saw the word Erie and a number outlined in stone on a grassy field. Many places in Ireland have these markers, which were used by US pilots in WW2 to get their bearings. (Ireland was neutral in the war.)

Not too far from Malin Head is Tory Island. With a population of about 120 Irish-speaking people, it is the most remote, populated island in Ireland. When we landed (by Zodiac), a local man (pictured above) took us on a walking tour during which he explained the monastic history in the 6th century (founded by Colmcille), the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the Battle of Tory Island, and the sinking of the HMS Audacious in 1914.

In the last part of the 20th century, the English artist Derek Hill visited Tory. When a few islanders exclaimed they could paint as well as he, Derek encouraged and nurtured the islanders to paint. Our guide was one of the children who Derek encouraged to paint. Thus the Tory Island art community began. Local artists exhibit work in a small gallery. (Image: Cross on grave at Mass Rock.)

Before we landed on the island, we learned of the long standing tradition of having a King of Tory. Patsy Dan Rodgers was King from 1990 until his death in 2018. The islanders have not yet elected a replacement, most likely because Patsy is a legend and must remain as that. Patsy was a painter and a musician who greeted all visitors with a warm welcome in his native Irish language. While on the ship, we heard tales of Patsy from those who met him and also viewed a video of him playing music. I would have loved to have met him. (Image: Tory Island cemetery and church)

The tour of Tory ended in the local pub. The pub musicians agreed to play outside as we sipped on Smithwick’s Ale and Guinness.

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