Tory Island is the most remote inhabited island off the Irish coast. The artist Derek Hill first went there in the mid 1950’s after a chance encounter with the lighthouse keeper. He wanted somewhere dramatically beautiful to paint and he found it on Tory. The story goes that one-day Hill was painting on Tory Island when a cantankerous old man, looking over his shoulder, said “I could do better if I tried”. Derek was delighted and challenged James Dixon to prove it. He gave Dixon paint and paper but Dixon refused paintbrushes choosing to make his own from donkey hair.
James Dixon painted West End Village, one of the most important and evocative paintings of 20th century Irish Art. Derek Hill encouraged his new found friend from Tory and promoted his paintings. He would return from his painting trips to Tory Island with rolls of Dixons work and show and sell them to collectors in Ireland and abroad.
Dixon’s success motivated other islanders to take up a brush and paint and over the past 60 years they have created a fascinating record of life on Tory. It is difficult to think of any other small community in the world that has created such a unique visual record of their home and their lives.
Patsy Dan Rogers was one of the first of these painters. He is now the King of Tory and a well know sight standing on the pier greeting visitors to the island. Over the years there have been many island painters but the two other consistent artists are Anton Meenan and Rurai Rogers. Each summer Tory Island is a destination for anyone interested in traditional Irish life. The language, music and folk art thrive on Tory as do rare and endangered birds.