Airstrip dream come true for Tory Island

Tory Island is looking forward to a new airstrip and is enjoying the novelty of its first secondary school, which opened last…

Tory Island is looking forward to a new airstrip and is enjoying the novelty of its first secondary school, which opened last September.

The Donegal island, with a population of over 170, has seen great improvements since 1980 when it emerged that plans existed to close down the island and turn it into one of three things: a firing range, a quarantine area or a high-security prison.

In his book Islanders, former Tory chaplain Father Diarmuid Peicin O Peicin recalled how he learned that a 1978 report recommended to Donegal County Council that the island be evacuated. Udaras na Gaeltachta has confirmed to The Irish Times that it will fund the airstrip, which is expected to cost at least £500,000. Engineers and planners from Donegal County Council have visited the proposed site and it is expected planning permission will be sought in the autumn for a 600-metre airstrip. It could be ready for use by January 2002.

Mr Cathal Sweeney, regional manager with Udaras na Gaeltachta, said the airstrip was being planned primarily for the benefit of the residents, so the travel cost would be reasonable. "The Aran Islands have had an airstrip for the last 20 years and it has made such a difference to them. They charge about £25-£30 return," he says. "If we have an airstrip, we would expect it to cost something similar."


The airstrip will be a dream come true, according to Father O Peic in, a Jesuit priest, who has campaigned to keep the island alive. In the early 1980s he collected signatures of people willing to provide land for the airstrip and he unsuccessfully lobbied the then Taoiseach, Mr Charles Haughey. O Peicin believes that the island now has a brighter future. "Access is vital and it's a marvellous answer to a prayer to see this coming." He also believes the upcoming film of the Tory Island story will help safeguard the island's future.

The BBC is making a film on the dramatic events of the early 1980s. It will chronicle how the plans were uncovered and how the inhabitants came together to rejuvenate the island. Father O Peicin has seen the script and is pleased with it.

Eleven students have just finished their first year in the island's new VEC school, but unemployment is still the biggest problem for islanders. "The majority of young people are leaving and it's very, very hard to get them to stay," says Ms Brid McGarvey of Tory Island Co-op.

"There is zero employment on this island. Eight men are working on a huge pier extension, but when that finishes, there is nothing else."

Because of the weather conditions, the tourist season on Tory Island only lasts for about two months so seasonal employment is not that significant. She points to the difficulty of coming up with an industry which would be feasible for an island 11 miles off the coast.