Thursday, 1 January 2009

In Remembrance: Iolaire

At 1.55 am on 1 January 1919, HMY Iolaire sank at the Beasts of Holm. More than 200 sailors, the vast majority from Lewis, drowned. About 75 were rescued. The remains of 60 were never recovered. Rather than their loved ones, many island homes received a visit from a church elder, bringing the worst possible news. Followed, not many days later, by the burials of those who had been found on the shores of Stornoway Harbour, the Braighe and Lochs. The circumstances of the sinking have never been satisfactorily cleared up.

A service of remembrance will be held on the shore overlooking the site where Iolaire went down, 90 years ago today. Although I'm not there myself, my thoughts will most definitely be on those lost in the Iolaire, their families left bereaved. I hope that by the 100th anniversary in 2019, the Royal Navy records on this case will be published to finally bring closure on a sad saga.

Those who wish to know more can visit my own webpage or that of the Stornoway Historical Society. A list of casualties and survivors has been collated on this site.


  1. the Lovely Outlander2 January 2009 at 22:43

    Thank you for your other posts on this disaster too. I had never heard of it. I can't begin to understand the loss of so many from such a small community--thinking they were safe after surviving the Great War, only to perish on the shores of their homes. Thanks for the moving post and links.

  2. I visited the memorial myself about a month ago on a sunny and calm (but cold) December lunchtime. I found it a very humbling experience.

    I rather wish the location was more prominently marked, especially from the sea. The CalMac ferry passes so close to the spot that people can easily see the marker but, unless they subsequently drive out of Stornoway toward the airport, they will not have a clue what it is for unless a fellow passenger relates the tale.

    I may only be a newcomer to the islands but I've already got a great sense of the impact that the Iolaire disaster wrought on the island community and even 90 years on the knock-on is still evident.

  3. BBC Alba produced an excellent documentary on the disaster and you can still watch it on their iPlayer for a short period.

  4. Thank you for the link.

  5. Programme repeated last night (8/12), very moving.