The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 5/Donegal Folk-Lore


Ballor of the Evil Eye.

TORY Island is twelve miles from the coast of the county Donegal, being the extreme north-west land of Ireland: and, like all the remarkable places round the coast, it has its history and its legends, one of the most remarkable of the latter being that of Ballor.

Ballor of Tory was a sort of Cyclops, having only one eye before, in the middle, of his forehead—however, he had a second behind in the middle of the back of his skull; while a glance from the latter would strike a person dead. On this account a person in the co. Donegal, who is supposed to have[an evil eye, is called Suil Bhallor—or Bailor's eye. Ballor had only one child, a daughter Ethnea; and it was prophesied by a Druid that he would die by the hands of his grandchild; he therefore put Ethnea into the charge of twelve matrons, and sent them to live in a castle on Tor-more (big peak), the highest and a nearly inaccessible crag at the eastern extremity of Tory Island. There Ethnea gradually grew up, a beautiful maiden, wondering how she got there, and what the hairy animals she saw in the currach fishing around the island were; but the matrons were true to their trust, and would not let Ethnea know what they were.

In the meantime Ballor was amusing himself, as usual, plundering all boats that tried to pass, and making raids on the mainland, from which he carried off cattle and prisoners.

The chief of the adjoining territory of Tullaghobegley was MacKineely, he being the owner of the cow called Glas Gaivlcn—" she was so lactiferous that her fame spread far and wide," and "Bailor of the Mighty Blows and the Evil Eye declared that his ambition could never be satisfied until he got possession of her." But MacKineely brought her everywhere with him, so that it was impossible to steal her. MacKineely had a brother named Gavida, a smith, whose forge was at Drumnatinne, or the ridge of the fire. One day, MacKineely went to the forge to have a sword made, bringing his cow with him. Another brother, named MacSambthainn, happened to be there, and MacKineely gave him the cow to hold while he went into the forge. Bailor, who was always watching for an opportunity, immediately changed himself into a red-headed boy, and went up to MacSambthainn and told him that he had overheard the two brothers arranging that they would make his swords of iron while they would use all the steel for MacKineely's sword. Enraged, MacSambthainn uttered a dreadful oath, handed the rope of the cow to the red-headed boy, and rushed into the forge; while the red-headed boy, quicker than lightning, carried off the cow, and when the brother came out they saw Bailor with the cow in the middle of the Tory ground. The place where the cow was dragged on shore is still called Port-na-Glaise, or cow harbour. Immediately after the loss of the cow MacKineely went to the Druid, to ask what he should do; but was told he never could get back his cow till Ballor was dead, as he would always keep the hind eye open and petrify any one who tried to get near her. He then went to his familiar spirit, or friendly fairy, called Birage, who told him she would enable Ballor to be killed. To do this she dressed MacKineely in women's clothes, and on the wings of a storm wafted him to the tower on Tor-more where Ethnea lodged. Here Birage demanded admittance for a noble lady she had rescued from the hands of a cruel giant who was carrying her off, and the twelve matrons, fearing the fairy, admitted her and MacKineely. Birage then caused a deep sleep to fall on the matrons, while Ethnea and MacKineely were left together to fall in love; after which the fairy brought MacKineely the way he came back to his abode on the mainland.

In process of time, three sons were born in the tower of Tor-more; and when Ballor heard of them he was furious, and ordered them to be drowned. They were rolled up in a sheet fastened by a pin, and brought to the whirlpool off the island where Ballor had ordered them, to be cast. Here the pin, or deloz, fell out, and the boys fell into the water, one sinking at once, but the two others were caught and put again into the sheet and cast into the whirlpool—the place being now called Port-a-Deloz, or the harbour of the pin.

The boy that sank was not, however, drowned, as Birage had taken him under the water to the mainland, and gave him to his father, who sent him to his brother Gavida, who taught him his trade of smith.

A Druid told Ballor that MacKineely was the father of the children; he thereupon called his warriors together and crossed to the main, landing at Ballyconnell, where he seized MacKineely, one of his men catching him by the hair, another by his hands, another by his feet, when he was cast across a large block of stone, when Ballor with one stroke of his sword cut off his head. The stone is called Clagh-an-neely, and still has on it streaks of MacKineely's blood. Some years ago (1794) it was placed on a pillar sixteen feet high, where it still remains.

After the slaughter of MacKineely and his children, Ballor thought he might defy the fates, and frequently visited the mainland, his favourite haunt being the forge of Gavida. Here he met his grandchild without knowing his origin, and became very fond of him. The young smith knew who his father was, and that he was killed at Clagh-an-neely, which he often visited, but by whom he did not know. One day, however. Ballor came to the forge while Gavida was absent, and whiled away the time by telling his exploits to his grandson, and among others boasted of his seizure of MacKineely, and of how he killed him. On which the young smith watched his opportunity, and when Ballor was off his guard ran a red-hot iron into the "basilisk eye" and through his head, thus fulfilling the prophecy and avenging the death of his father.


Tory Island is a favourable haunt of the good people, and no Toryite will go out alone after dark. Till lately there lived at Killult a woman who used to be carried off by the fairies. One dark night, when they were out looking for her with torches, Owen Kelly of Malin rescued her: she was in the grasp of a little man with a red cap, who disappeared as he came up.

On Tory Island there is a "cursing stone," visited by those who wish to curse their enemies.