Back to the Stone Ship

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Firstly, her boilers were down and she was only going by sail. The reason for this has never been explained but it meant there was no power for a quick manoeuvre. Secondly, she was set on a course taking her between Tory and the mainland when others would have favoured going around the outside of the island. Thirdly, her senior officers were asleep with junior men at the helm in what was seen as a tricky stretch of water. Disaster struck at am in the morning.

HMS Wasp hit the rocks at Tory Island and sank to the bottom of the ocean with the loss of fifty of the crew — there were only six survivors. The vessel submerged in less than half an hour leaving only the mastheads sitting up out of the water. It was unbelievable that such an accident could happen — a bit akin to a lorry driving straight into a wall for no reason in our world of today.

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Affairs were all the more bizarre in that the ship went down on rocks right under the Tory lighthouse. Apart from the questions raised about what was happening on board the Wasp, much debate since has focused on whether the Tory light was on or off before the vessel struck the rocks. What is known is that the light was on after the collision. However, the question remains - was the light on when the Wasp was nearing Tory? Some folk have alleged that the light had been on but was off during the crucial period when the ship was passing close to the island.

Nonetheless other more bizarre rumours were circulating on Tory itself. One story suggested that the light had been turned out deliberately because of the fear that sooner or later HMS Wasp would bring an eviction party to the island.

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Another more chilling tale suggests that folk turned Tory's famous Cursing Stone against the vessel, thereby releasing sinister forces that doomed her. While some people dismiss these accounts, others believe that something out of the ordinary took place on Tory Island. There's no doubt that Tory had a Cursing stone, or cursing stones. Many places, even outside Ireland, have these stones. Cursing stones date back to ancient times and may be associated with Druidic rituals.

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One theory is that the Druids used the cosmic cycle in their ceremonies, where they would walk clockwise in a circle around a sacred stone as they chanted. When enemies appeared they would walk anti-clockwise and turn the stone upside down - the idea being to turn the cycle of nature against their foes and release negative forces. It is frequently referred to as Widdershins — going contrary, or anti-clockwise, and is encountered in many religious traditions. The Tory cursing stone in question — Cloch na Mallacht or sometimes Cloch Thorai - is believed to be linked to Derry's St Colmcille, who, incidentally, is said to have banished the rats from Tory.

Early pilgrims followed a circuit - An Turas Mor - around the island and turned the stone at the end of their walk, but on one occasion the anti-clockwise walk was used on an English invading party. So evidently some people on Tory believed in the power of this extraordinary stone, which usually rested on a distinctive rock — Cloch Arclai — near the lighthouse. Another unanswered question is how the Tory islanders would have known that HMS Wasp would be making her way up past the island in the early hours of Monday morning 22 September One explanation is that they had a sixth sense about such comings and goings on the sea and knew instinctively when danger was threatening.

For days after the disaster debate raged about the state of the Tory light - Teach an tSolais. No one wanted to admit that it had been extinguished since it would have reflected badly on the lighthouse keepers. Yet it only appears to have been a talking point on the island for the issue was given little prominence during the Court Martial attended by the six survivors at Portsmouth.

Naturally enough the six poor crewmen were totally bemused by this time. They'd climbed the rigging when the Wasp struck the Tory rocks and somehow managed to struggle ashore. But due to sudden bad weather it was four days before HMS Valiant could get them off the island and bring them to Rathmullan on Lough Swilly.

Their orders were strict and to the point — they would be given 3rd class tickets for travel to Portsmouth and should set out immediately for a Court Martial aboard HMS Victory, Nelson's former Flagship.


  • A List of Miracles and Daring to Tell;
  • The strange mystery of the ship and the cursing stone;
  • The Stone Ship - Wikisource, the free online library?

Thanks to the archives I have been able to trace the journey of the survivors and it was not a happy one. Note: Typical delivery date is approximately 10 days from the day the order is confirmed. Quick Ship orders received cannot be changed, cancelled or returned. Stone Source reserves the right to change pricing, and to change or discontinue the products or Quick Ship Program at any time without prior notification.

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