22 June 2010

The Tories in Civilisation

In the 19th century Royal Cartographer James Wyld created a world map grading nations by his option of their level of civilization. He rated them from one to five (I-V). ‘V’ being the civilisation of England and France. ‘I’ being the savage lands of Australia and Africa. I note Wyld marked Ireland with both ‘IV’ and ‘V’. Perhaps this was referencing the contrast between the pale and beyond the pale. Or could it have been his way of saying that Ireland rated a 4.5?

Section of Wyld's map.

Its interesting to see what parts of Ireland Wyld thought worth putting a name on. In Ulster he tags only Tory Island, that three-mile long slab off Donegal. Nowadays this island and its small population seem the very epitome of peripheral, forgotten even. However, up until Wyld’s time Tory Island had often asserted itself in history.

From the mainland Troy is a forbidding looking place, at least on a grey day, and it is easy to believe that it was a last stronghold of pre-history's Fomorians and the site of massive battles. The Fomorian king Balor lived here. His evil eye, which shot flame, is often given as the reason there are no trees on the island.

Taken from a plane, I got this photo from here.

The island was troublesome to Oliver Cromwell during his 1649-50 taming of Ireland. It was used as a base for a Royalist band who harried the mainland. Since then the word Tory has often been applied to groups and factions supportive of Britain’s Royal linage. Hence it is the nickname of the Conservative Party, an organisation to whom Wyld might have given a 5.

Perhaps freshest in the national memory when Wyld was creating this map was the Battle of Tory Island. It was a major naval action fought between France and Britain in 1798, eighteen ships trying to batter one another in to submission off Tory’s west end. Britain won out. This was the last attempt by the French to invade any part of the British Isles. It also brought to an end the United Irishmen’s hopes of obtaining outside support in their push for independence. Theobald Wolfe Tone was aboard the French flagship. He was captured and convicted of treason, committing suicide shortly before he was due to be hanged.