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The Cursing of the HMS Wasp

            The Irish are known for their superstitious nature.  They believe in blessings as well as curses.  From avoiding black cats and ladders to making the sign of the cross to ward off evil, the Irish have a long history of believing in the power of the supernatural.  The people of Tory Island are no exception.

            Tory’s history is full of mystical stories of blessed clay, magic water fonts, secret charms, and enchanted stones.  But most people believe the tales to be nothing more than folk legends, told to explain the inexplicable and amuse the masses.  However, one tragic incident is still rumored to be the result of a true Irish curse:  the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In September 1884, the HMS Wasp set sail from Westport, County Mayo to collect taxes and deliver eviction notices to Inishtrahull Island off Malin Head.  She was on course between Tory and the mainland when disaster struck.  Around 3:45 am, the Wasp hit the rocks directly beneath Tory’s lighthouse and sank to the bottom of the ocean in less than half an hour.  There were only six survivors of the fifty men onboard.

            Was the lighthouse lit?  Reports are mixed.  Some say the light was on, but was purposely turned off at the critical moment the Wasp passed by Tory’s shore.  Others claim the light was never dimmed.  A Royal Navy Court Martial concluded that the HMS Wasp was lost due to a lack of care and attention (her boilers were down, she was taking a quicker but more dangerous course around the island, and junior men were at the helm while senior officers slept.)  No one was singled out for blame, and the case was closed.

            However, rumors soon began to surface, and stories of Tory’s inhabitants invoking a curse against the vessel started to circulate.  Tory was known to have a Cursing Stone called Cloch na Mallacht or Cloch Thorai.  It was believed to be linked to St. Colmcille and the pilgrimage route around the island called An Turas Mor.  On the pilgrimage, islanders would visit various holy sites on Tory.  At the conclusion of their walk, they would turn the stone upside down, a quite benevolent act.  However, a curse was said to be invoked if the walk was done in a counterclockwise direction.  Many believe the islanders used the Cursing Stone to doom the HMS Wasp for fear that Tory would be its next destination for tax collection and eviction.

            Fuel was added to the fire when the Cursing Stone went missing shortly after the night of the Wasp tragedy.  Many theories abound as to the Cursing Stone’s whereabouts.  It may have been buried locally or thrown into the sea, but all that remains today is its pedestal, Cloch Arclai, and the mystery of the sinking of the HMS Wasp.

            In my young adult fantasy novel, Island of Tory, the legend of the Cursing Stone and the sinking of the HMS Wasp are the foundation stones of the plot.  Arella Cline, an American teenager, finds herself trapped on Tory Island.  The island and its inhabitants are stuck in time because the Cursing Stone was used against the Wasp and its crew.  Arella needs to journey An Turas Mor to reverse the curse.

            Island of Tory is set to be released March 2012 by Loconeal Publishing.  Like Island of Tory on Facebook or subscribe to this site for updates.

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