Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Iolaire Disaster

There was a very good programme on tonight about the Iolaire Disaster of New Year’s Day 1919. A horrific sinking of a boat packed with sailors coming home after the end of the Great War. 205 men, fathers, sons and brothers were killed. 80 survived.

It was a touching piece, and there is a website to investigate across

To give some idea of the losses – between 1914 and 1918, the village of Leurbost lost 18 men (according to the memorial inscription listed by the North Lochs Historical Society). In addition to that, 11 were lost when the Iolaire hit the rocks at the entrance to Stornoway harbour. One poor soul’s body was found within sight of his house in Sandwick.

The programme discussed the impact that it had on those widows and families left behind. One girl had her Gaelic name changed to remove her father from it.

DSC02052pcs Sunrise over the Iolaire

I go past it most times that I travel home. The sun sometimes marks the spot. (Maplink)


Have a look at the website. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak Gaelic. They have video clips of the Iolaire sailing, interviews with the families and some historical ones of the survivors. Have a look at the faces of the departed, and you’ll see the same faces on many streets in Scotland, or Canada, or Australia or the myriad places we have diasporad to.


Footnote: The full, subtitled, programme isn’t being shown on the iPlayer, and the original showing on BBC Alba is now unavailable.


Story Quine said...

I interviewed a lady who works for the school of Education, Catherine Walker, who is now married to a farmer in Udny - she is from Siabost, her great-grandfather died on the Iolaire. She was even moved to tears speaking about it just last year. Good on BBC Alba. Good to remember. BTW thanks for your card. (FJ)

AktoMan said...

I think being so close to land and salvation made it even worse. The randomness of it all - the sailor who survived clinging to the mast, but the other mast broke and the sailors on that one drowned. With it, their futures were gone, and their families devistated.

Would more have been saved if people hadn't thought the emergency flares were New Year's fireworks? Who knows. Good to have thoughts on their issues, and stories to tell from it. They are not truly gone if we remember them and their deeds. Learning from their hopes, their aspirations, their mistakes, their bravery.

As we call footballers "heroes", we demean the sailor who fought through the stormy sea, hauling a rope and was responsible for about half of the lives saved that night.