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Donegal Islands

A glimpse into a long forgotten time
by Iain Miller | 11/02/2017 | 10:21

Living off the western coast of County Donegal lays an archipelago of unique and outstandingly beautiful islands: the Donegal Islands. These islands provide a very real glimpse into a time long forgotten and a way of life almost gone from our distant shore. A visit to any of the islands will provide an outdoor experience with nesting corncrakes, basking sharks, bottlenosed dolphins, endless sandy beaches and sun set view from the edge of Europe. And if conditions are right, the northern Lights overhead. Only Tory and Arranmore islands have all year round residents. The rest of the islands are the domain of the wildlife and sea birds.

With this post we start a series of short articles on the islands of Donegal and the most popular of rock climbing venues on each. Today we start with one of the jewels: Tory Island.

Tory Island

There are very few places in Ireland that can come close to comparing to Tory Island. Tory (Oileán Thoraí or Toraigh) lives 14 kilometers from the north west coast of mainland Donegal and is Ireland’s most remote inhabited island. The island is relatively small at approximately 5 km long and 1 km wide. The population of approx 100 people live in two tiny villages at each end of the island: An Baile Thoir (East Town) and An Baile Thiar (West Town). 

The entire island is wedge shaped with the north face of the island almost one continual unclimbed granite sea cliff and the south face at sea level. The potential for exploration, unclimbed rock and bagging new routes is huge, with the main climbing development to date being on the sea stacks and the outrageous Tor Mor ridge at the far eastern end of the island.

Getting to Tory is by daily passenger-only ferry service from Magheroarty on mainland Donegal to West Town on Tory. A day trip to the island can be a very rushed affair and a much longer stay is by far the best way to experience the island. There is a full range of accommodation from hotel, hostel and camping. It is possible to camp pretty much anywhere on the island. There is also a small shop in West Town but it is best to bring all the provisions you will need.


Iain Miller is a fully qualified mountain instructor, an approved provider of National Governing Body awards with Mountaineering Ireland and a registered and insured Mountain Instructor with the Association of Mountain Instructors (AMI). He has a unique set of skills gained for over 30 years as a mountaineer and as a marine engineer for 20 years. He has explored the mountains and coastline of County Donegal since 2007, resulting in a unique and in-depth knowledge of the geography and features of the area. His company Unique Ascent has produced the Tory Island Rock Climbers Guidebook, which offers great hints, resources and reading for the more adventurous ones!

On our next post we will visit the epicenter of the Donegal's climbing scene: Gola Island. Stay tuned!


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