1 EAGLETON NOTES: HMY Iolaire

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Tuesday, 1 January 2019

HMY Iolaire

One hundred years ago today occurred one of the worst maritime disasters in United Kingdon waters since the loss of SS Norge in 1904. It was undoubtedly the most tragic single occurrence to befall the combined island of Lewis and Harris.

The Islands had already lost about 1200 men in their prime during The War. The addition of 174 Lewismen and 7 Harrismen within yards of the shore of home made the tragedy even harder to bear.

Only 75 of the passengers survived, and the death toll may in fact have been higher as the ship was overcrowded and passenger records were incomplete. Many of the survivors were saved by the actions of John F Macleod, Port of Ness, who jumped from the boat with a line, miraculously made land, wedged himself in the boulders and hauled ashore a hawser, along which most of the survivors struggled to safety.

The tragedy has  been the subject of a number of books and many articles and there have been and will be many acts of remembrance during this week in which I shall, hopefully, participate and about which I hope blog.

Last evening there was a torchlight procession to a service and concert of remembrance attended by Scotland's First Minister and HRH Prince Charles.


I will not try and repeat much that has already been written but for anyone with an interest in the Islands, history, maritime history or who are just curious to know some more I will provide some links.

Books:

The Darkest Dawn: The Story of the Iolaire Tragedy by Malcolm Macdonald and Donald John Macleod. (2018) Publisher: Acair. The most authoritative and thorough account of the event with details of those lost and those who survived.

When I Heard The Bell - The Loss of the Iolaire by John MacLeod. Publisher:  Birlinn Limited.

There are more which can be found by Googling "Books Iolaire disaster"

36 comments:

  1. It was awful. The monument is a very solemn place and rightly so.
    I have never read how it happened but the entrance to Stornoway is easy by any standards.

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    1. Adrian, the general view is that any one of the Royal Navy seamen on board could have taken the boat in but the night was very dark and stormy and no one knows why the Captain had taken the boat on that course. All the officers died so there was no one to answer the question.

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    2. Adrian perhaps I should add that there have been many occasions in bad weather when the old MV Suilven (which was a superb seaboat according to it's various Masters) couldn't make the harbour entrance in stormy weather and wandered up an down outside until conditions were right. That doesn't happen now because the later ferries don't sail in such adverse conditions.

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  2. Thanks for telling us about this, Graham. You know I want to read those books about the tragedy. Wondering...are the authors, John MacLeod and Donald John Macleod related to the hero, John F. MacLeod? Might be a very common name, and they might not, I just wondered.
    Just clicked on John MacLeod's name and he lives on the Isle of Lewis! With chickens, it said!

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    1. Kay, Donald John Macleod died earlier last year (2018), he was a Lewisman but I'm not aware of any direct link to John F MacLeod. I do know Malcolm Macdonald and will probably see him for lunch next Wednesday and will try and remember to ask him. Macleod is a very common name on Lewis. I'm not sure about John Macleod but I'll do some research.

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    2. Kay, the two Macdonalds were not, as far as we know, relatives. I have to add that there must be several hundred John Macleods on Lewis.

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  3. Very interesting stuff... and I can vouch for the easy access to Stornoway, thanks to my journeys with Caledonian MacBrayne...

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    1. Mrs S. You are correct up to a point as Adrian said (and Adrian is an old sea-dog) but see my supplementary comment to his comment.

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  4. 100 years ago they didn't have that many safety devices so when a disaster occurred it was major. I had never heard of this disaster.

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    1. You are right, Red, and safety regimes were not as strict either.

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  5. Just hearing about a tragedy of such proportions , is devastating!

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    1. It certainly had a massive impact on the community, Duta.

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  6. Good to see they are not forgotten. I notice that not many are wearing hats in the torchlight procession. Too cold for that here!

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    1. Anyone of my generation who lives here whether Islander or not knows of the tragedy. However I did meet a young(ish) Islander last year who didn't know anything about it. Any ignorance there was has disappeared after the last couple of months. The remembrance has been colossal.

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    2. I've just been looking at some photos of the Iolaire; what a beautiful yacht she was!

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  7. I love hearing and seeing pipe bands, the sound they play makes me all teary eyed. My grandmother who was half scottish and half irish use to love them.

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    1. Amy, there are few things that will get the blood flowing fast more than a pipe band.

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  8. There is a copy of "When I Heard the Bell" on my bookshelf that I've not yet got to. I should probably move it closer to the top of the to read pile given the anniversary.

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  9. Like Red, I had never heard of this until reading about it now on your blog. What consequences the loss of so many men must have had on the island community, both immediate and long-term.

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    1. Meike, I wouldn't have expected you to know about it. I doubt many people in England have ever heard of it. The direct affect on the community lasted for several generations and, in truth, is probably being felt indirectly even now.

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  10. Must have been an awful tragedy when it happened, and I suppose part of personal family history for a lot of people still living on the island. The procession looks like a worthy commemoration.

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    1. Monica, there were few families who were not involved one way or another. The procession was just a small part of a couple many acts of remembrance.

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  11. This was the picture of the day on my geograph website on New Year's Day:-
    https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2624965
    How marvellous that your island people are commemorating the tragedy with full honours.

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    1. How very appropriate, YP. You were on Lewis in the spring 7 years ago? Did I know this? Was I in New Zealand at the time?

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    2. No you misunderstand me sir. That was another contributor's image. I have never set foot on The Isle of Lewis.

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    3. That's good. I would have been most upset if you had visited with me here and without meeting.

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  12. Very sad...very moving...but wonderful that the tragedy...the loss of so many lives...has never been forgotten.

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    1. I think, Lee, in such a small community such a large disaster is unlikely ever to be forgotten.

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  13. A most tragic story and also very good that it has been so movingly commemorated for so long, and not forgotten.

    On a different note, a Happy New Year to you!

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    1. Thank you for your good wishes, Jenny. The tributes this year have been quite amazing.

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  14. I have had not heard about this prior to seeing your blog. How very tragic, and so close to home. May those lost be continued to be remembered always.

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    1. Thank you Lynda. I suspect there are many, many people in the UK who have never heard of the tragedy.

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  15. For the record and if anyone is interested a web summary of many of the Iolaire remembrances here is the link.

    http://www.hebevents.com/wp-content/uploads/RememberingtheIolaire.pdf?fbclid=IwAR35MByhNvbBrjhaP8IizmMBT8_dRi06MIeFTH2LRJxJSNrPj2Hst2Bh_HE

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