David Jeffrey answers the phone on the second of his daily walks on Tory Island. Since the coronavirus hit he had been exercising twice a day by strolling around this treeless, granitic outpost in Co Donegal.
At 14km off the mainland at Magheroarty, the island is sometimes mistaken for our most northerly island but that honour goes to Inishtrahull off Malin Head. However, it is our most distant populated island.
Highlandradio.com last Friday reported that after a meeting between Comharchumann Thorai and the ferry operator and consultation with The Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and the HSE, it was decided to reduce the ferry service to the Island in an effort to minimise the number of people travelling to Tory Island.
Comharchumann Thorai says it is necessary for “the health and safety of this vulnerable community and it is important to minimise the threat of the coronavirus coming onto the island”. The ferry will now operate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays only for the foreseeable future.
For Tory islanders however, being cut off is a way of life, says David.
“This winter has been bad, horrific. It’s been severe. People here are used to being cut off anyway. Some of the islanders have been saying they haven’t come across it before as far as they can remember. And then others are saying ‘come on, we live in the north Atlantic, we do get stuff like this [the storms] all the time so stop complaining’” says David.
He says they were cut off a lot from the beginning of January. “We had a weekend off in the second or third week of January where the weather was nice, he says. As we speak, someone stops him on the road. “Oh I’ve got a box, a parcel delivery. I sent out for some extra supplements as I can’t get out of the island and a guy off the ferry just dropped them over”.
Life on Tory now appears to be much as the same as ever though, like everywhere else, people are watching and waiting. “I’m walking twice a day, morning and afternoon. It’s been very windy so it’s exhausting fighting against the wind. That’s in one direction and then you get blown home the other. I’m looking now at the Derryveagh mountains across the sound,” he says.
The HSE guidelines on hand washing and social distancing are being adhered to, says David.
“We’re all practising social distancing at the moment. Members of the same family are walking together, but other than that I walk on my own and when I’m out walking I might come across another walker but we keep a good distance apart. But you can here of course, because there’s plenty of room,” he says.
Tory’s population of about 110 people is centred around the pier near the hotel. Within a stone’s throw is the pub-cum-community centre and there is also a lovely cafe and hostel. The rest of the village community centres around a GAA pitch and the Catholic church.
What about food supplies?
And access to medical care: “There’s a nurse that changes [rota] every two weeks and the doctor comes in every second Thursday,” he says.
A helicopter service runs from the island to the village of Falcarragh on the mainland every second week but during the winter in recent years they have allowed the public to use the helicopter. It costs €28 return for the eight-minute flight. So there is less a feeling of being cut off. Like the ferry though, the helicopter trips are weather-dependant. They do as many journeys as are necessary during the day. You just have to book in advance.”
Tory’s much-loved king Patsy Dan Rodgers died two years ago and a successor has yet to be sworn in. Maybe David is a king in the making?
“I don’t think so. Patsy would be a hard act to follow. And you have to be born on the island,” he says.
How to get there: toryferry.com from Bunbeg and Magheroarty (after Covid-19)