Just Like That

Ireland, because of the Northern political violence and criminal copy cat actions since, is familiar with the phenomenon of the Disappeared. But all of that has to do with bodies whereas this is this story of the house that disappeared on Tory Island.

Neville Presho was a film maker. One of his productions, Oilean, was praised by a serving Gealtacht Minister 25 years after its release for having represented ‘a fascinating look on Tory Island.’ When, in 1982, the opportunity came to acquire a house in the remote solitude of the island, Presho went for it and invested his life savings in the endeavour. Aged around 150 years old, one of the oldest on Tory, it was ‘a house with character.’

In 1986 Presho became one of the country’s twenty eight thousand to emigrate because of the economic downturn. After a long time away from Ireland he eventually returned to claim what he had paid for. As he disembarked from the ferry that brought him from the mainland he noticed that ‘where my house had been there was a vacant space.’ It had vanished, to borrow the words of the late British comedian Tommy Cooper, ‘just like that.’

The islanders may have alternative deities to ‘the god of the chapel’ but this was not an event which could with any credibility be explained through recourse to the supernatural.

Presho became obsessed with finding out what had happened to his house, running around the country ‘like a blue arsed fly’ is how he put it. He got little help from the Gardai who, redolent with the ‘better things to do’ reasoning that saw Scottish police officer Michelle Selby jailed for a year by a Glasgow court in 2011, went off in pursuit of those better things. Presho’s family ended up ‘living on the bones of their arse’. The state of his mental wellbeing deteriorated. He was admitted to psychiatric hospitals on two occasions. His marriage would eventually crumble.

Presho’s nemesis in the matter of his vanished home was Patrick Doohan a native of Tory who returned there in 1992 with a plan to revamp Ward’s Hotel. His ideas appeared fine but for one problem. The view of guests would be severely obstructed by Presho’s house.

Local builder Patrick McGinty would later give evidence in the High Court that Doohan had asked him to demolish the house. McGinty would only do so if provided with proof of ownership which was not forthcoming. The house was eventually burned and the complete wooden structure was destroyed leaving only the stonework. McGinty rang the Gardai and said ‘it’s no fucking accident. This house was burnt.’

After the fire the building was slowly demolished. On one occasion McGinty saw Doohan’s digger, the only piece of plant of its kind on Tory, collide with the house. An engineer who examined the ruins concluded that it could only have been caused by a digger.

People did not come forward with information. While ‘another man held the title of king of Tory ... Patrick was the real monarch of the island.’ A very powerful figure with the ear of local authorities and Dail politicians he had the power to move any mountains that blocked his view.

Anton McCabe, who regularly visits Tory, set out to tell the story and does it with aplomb.  What he constructs is a straightforward story about the abuse of power and the silences that it imposes upon any alternative narrative that might emerge to threaten its own account.

The case eventually came to court in 2009. At the opening there were two journalists covering it but by the end the courtroom was packed. Despite Doohan’s courtroom protestations that the house had blown down, the court found that in all probability Doohan’s digger had been responsible for the demolition. Presho was awarded damages although far short of what he needed to turn his economic fortunes around. Nevertheless, the judgement was a serious setback to Doohan.

Presho won the case ‘because he refused to give up and accept the injustice done to him.’ Doohan has appealed to the Supreme Court. If it rules in his favour then not only will a house have disappeared on Tory Island but into the hole it created justice will follow.

Anton McCabe, The House that Disappeared on Tory Island. Omagh: Drumkkeen Press. Price €8.50


  1. AM-

    Hope that Presho will win in the end but it looks like his victory will be to late to save his sanity and his family life-

    Doohans tales are like a house build on sand and his groundless lies sunk him in court-Its regrettable Doohan left Presho with nothing but sand on his land-

    The nearest Garda station is in Bunbeg on the coast of Co Donegal-out of which the Garda sent one officer over to Tory for weekends during the tourist season which sees 10.000 visitors each year-but thats no excuse why they could have not helped Presho more when he asked for their assistance-

  2. Michaelhenry,

    did you get to read the book? It is very good

  3. AM-

    No-i have not read the book yet-another one for the list-
    Thought it a good post of yours and checked up on the Garda with Goggle-

  4. I followed this story with an interest when it first emerged many moons ago, mainly because I couldn’t for the life of me understand how Doohan could blatantly get away with it, or how the authorities in his pocket would ever think that they could somehow escape goat this as some form or freak of nature…...Tory Island, Tory Island...you can see from one end to the other! But for it to have taken so long to receive some form of justice really underlines the corruption in the South not just among the authorities but also the communities who allow people like Doohan to dominate and dictate their lives…..at times like this you feel like driving your foot as hard as you can up their arses, just to waken them up and remind them that they can think. The bastards would probably waken up, realise they can think and do you for assault and sue for damages!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Fascinating, i remeber a piece on UTV Live last year about this and could barely believe that it could happen in this day and age then i thought about the Celtic Tiger, the greed , corruption and the backhanders!

    Reminds me of a conversation i had last week about how local business men and women in communities, tend to snap up all land, building sites, houses and holes in hedges to add for their portfolios leaving the orinary hardworking folk, little chance of purchasing anything in their locality.....