The Islands

Image of man standing on a cliff edge
Tory Island - Anvil

There are many small Islands off the coast of Donegal although very few of them are actually inhabited year round.  They are mainly Irish speaking, being part of the Gaeltacht, but most people are bilingual, as tourism is a large economic driver for these communities.

Tory Island, (Toraigh meaning High Tower), is the most famous but also the most solitary island, 9 miles off the coast.  It has a year round population of around 100.  Tourism plays an important part in the running of the island with many people visiting for its history, art and its untainted Irish traditional culture.  It also is home to the last king of Ireland, who personally greets visitors arriving by ferry.  Tory also plays a significant part in Irish mythology, being the stronghold of the Fomorians, an ancient race of demons, and their leader Balor of the Evil Eye.

Arranmore (Árainn Mhór meaning Great Aran), is by far the largest inhabited island in Donegal with a population of 514.  like Tory there is regular ferry access.  Previously, fishing was the main source of income for the islanders but since the 1980's it has been overtaken by tourism.  This has given rise to the building of holiday homes and many more english speakers. 

Gola, (Gabhla), was once a well populated island but is today deserted.  Most of the buildings on the island are derelict, but some are being renovated as holiday homes and so hopefully there will be a thriving summer community here in the near future.  Gola was immortalised in the sad lament “Baidin Fheilmidh”, a song about a group of islanders who were drowned when their boat went down as they were returning to Gola after a wedding on the mainland.  Along with Cruit Island it is a popular destination for rock climbing, abseiling and birdwatching.

Inishbofin (Inis Bó Finne meaning Island of the White Cow), like the other islands has a small population of around 36 that increases during the summer due to tourism.  The island has remained a relatively undisturbed farming settlement since the 1970’s.  Fishing for lobster, crab and salmon is very popular with the tourists and the increase in people brings an economic boost to the two small villages of Inishbofin every year.

Island Roy (Oileán Ruaidh meaning Red Island)  so called for the vibrant rusty colour of the vegetation in winter.  Interestingly the original name was Oileán an Bhráighe, meaning island of the prisoners, perhaps because of the nearby fortress Sweeney Doe Castle, which had links to the island.  Farming, shellfish-rearing, and tourism are the main ways of life of the islanders, of which there are just 26.

The reasons to visit any the Islands are innumerable, be it rock climbing, birdwatching, getting in touch with nature or visiting a well preserved traditional culture.  What ever the case may be, a unique and spirited adventure awaits you!