The story of the worst peacetime shipping disaster since the Titanic, when 205 sailors
returning from WWI died at the entrance to Stornoway harbour, is being remembered
at the National Library of Scotland.
A new website has been created to raise awareness of the tragic events of New Year's
Day in 1919, ahead of the 100th anniversary of the disaster.
The men were aboard the HMY Iolaire and looking forward to being reunited with loved
ones when the ship struck rocks called the Beasts of Holm, at the entrance to Stornoway
Harbour. There were only 79 survivors.
The dual language Gaelic / English website features reflections on the disaster from
descendants of both survivors and those who perished together with video interviews
with John Macleod, author of 'When I Heard the Bell - The Loss of the Iolaire.”
The story is also told through historical newspapers, maps and documentary sources
in both Gaelic and English.
Some of these have been newly digitised and made widely available for the first time.
The site includes artistic responses to the tragedy, including poetry and early 20th
century Gaelic songs.
In his interview, John Macleod recalls the waste of it all: 'These men did not die
heroically in war. They were killed by colossal carelessness and human error. A ship
ran aground in not really bad weather conditions on a notorious reef well off the
main shipping line by utterly incompetent officers.'
Alice Heywood, Learning Officer at the National library of Scotland, said: 'The site
aims to give visitors a starting point in looking at the impact the tragedy had on
both the community of the time and what we can learn from it today.
“It includes contributions from the community on the Isle of Lewis and related items
in the library's collection to provide an overview of events on that fateful day.”