A community landlord in the north of Lewis has awarded £10,000 to help mark the centenary of the 'Iolaire' tragedy, when on New Year's night in 1919 over 200 men drowned at the entrance to Stornoway harbour after surviving the horrors of the First World War.
The financial assistance by Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (the Galson Estate Trust) through its Community Investment Fund is in recognition of the historical importance of the event for the townships within the estate area, which accounted for 23 of those lost.
A series of events are being planned in Lewis to help commemorate the centenary of the UK's worst shipping disaster in peace time in the 20th century. Of the 283 on board the naval yacht, only 40 survived after she hit rocks known as the Beasts of Holm within sight of Stornoway harbour.
It was a man from the Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn area -- John Finlay MacLeod -- who helped save the lives of 40 on board when he swam heroically through the stormy waters and managed to secure a rope to the rocks, enabling others to make it to the safety of the land. Another man from Ness, Donald "Patch" Morrison, managed to survive by clinging all night to the cross-tree of the mizzen mast and was the only man, famously, to make it to the pier in Stornoway alive.
The commemorative events are being led by the An Lanntair arts centre who hope to commission a new sculpture and two pieces of music. Development work at the Iolaire memorial over-looking the rocks will also be undertaken by other partners as well as a new book from Acair which will chart the history of the tragedy and, for the first time, detail those on board.
While the Iolaire tragedy had an indelible mark on local communities -- there was scarcely a family unaffected -- it remains relatively unknown outside the islands.
Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn chair Agnes Rennie said: "This event is of immense historical importance for our community as well as the wider community in Lewis and Harris. The Urras are pleased to support a project being taken forward to mark the event and actively commemorate the history of the tragedy. The Iolaire disaster had far reaching consequences and it is important to mark this centenary in ways that will provide a lasting memorial to those who lost their lives.”
Roddy Murray from An Lanntair added: "While every village on the Island suffered along with the many from Ness that were lost, the district will always be associated with the Iolaire through the heroism, humanity and endurance of John Finlay Macleod and Donald ‘Patch’ Morrison. As such it is appropriate and we are extremely grateful that Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsann has made such a generous and important contribution towards honouring and commemorating the tragic events of the 1st January 1919. “