Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Iolaire Disaster

<![CDATA[ A few months ago, I wrote about a list of names of people who were involved in the Iolaire Disaster of New Year's Day 1919. In that incident, 205 island men drowned within sight of Stornoway on their return from the Great War. The exact circumstances have never really been cleared up; a formal inquiry did not take place until 1972. It is one of the worst maritime disasters of peacetime, but hardly known outside the islands. It is as little known as the sinking of the Norge, a Norwegian emigrant ship that foundered at Rockall in 1904, leaving hundreds dead.

Since publishing the names on the web (visit this link), I have had a trickle of feedback, which gives a window of insight to some of the underlying stories.

(1) A gentleman emailed me from southwest Scotland, saying: "I knew nothing of the Iolaire Disaster [...]. Very moving but tragic that more people don't know more about a large group of young men taken in such tragic circumstances. To have survived a war and then die within sight of home is beyond belief." Others expressed similar sadness.

(2) One lady contacted me from Ontario, Canada. Her ancestors came from Marvig (South Lochs). She gave me permission to reproduce their story.
"My grampa's younger brother, Donald MacLeod (7 Marbhig, then Stornoway),
died coming into harbour on the Iolaire. From the memorial in South Lochs
I think two of my greatgrandparents' brothers were killed in the war, as
well as losing Donald. My grandfather Alasdair was forbidden from fishing
anymore for fear he'd drown too, after his family's losses. A torment for
him, as he loved the sea and fishing. He drove for Lord Leverhulme then
went to the shipyards in Glasgow to make some money. Her returned to
Stornoway for a short time then came to Canada on one of the two ships
for which there were no passenger lists. Settled in our praries for a
time (no water at all) then went west to Vancouver Island for the
remainder of his lifetime... built himself a little boat and enjoyed it
to the end in 1980. So fortunate I visited Stornoway last summer and saw
for myself why Alaisdair chose looked so like Stornoway...
His mother I think suffered too much heartbreak for it all and was a lost
soul in the sanatorium for the rest of her life. And oddly, when I've
written lyrics all through my life they have been laden with images of
water, and the sea...long before I knew of this event in my family's
history. Funny how these things can follow you. I'd not be at all if it
weren't for the Iolaire disaster...a ponderous thought, that."

(3) One correspondent mentioned that her ancestors came from Harris, but wondered whether any had been on the Iolaire.

(4) Another reaction bears out the extreme distress that the Iolaire Disaster caused within the islands: "I only found that my grandfather's first cousin [...] was lost on the Iolaire when I looked up his death certificate. The family had never mentioned or talked of him. I go to Harris and will post a photo of his headstone after my next visit. I only learned of how he died after my last trip to the island."


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