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HMY Iolaire

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773572.  Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:29 am Reply with quote

One of worst peacetime maritime disaster in UK waters in the 20th century is barely remembered outside the community which bore the brunt of the tragedy.

HMY Iolaire (pron. [ˈjoɫəz̟ə], although Gaelic speakers from Lewis are considered to have the equivalent of a West Country accent by others) was lost at approx 2.30am on 1st January 1919, within sight of her destination.

She was requisitioned to carry RNR reservists returning from active service in WWI from Kyle of Lochalsh to Stornoway, as the regular MacBrayne service was full, and ran aground on a notorious reef, the Beasts of Holm/ air Biastan Thulim, yards from the entrance to Stornoway harbour and within sight of families waiting on the quayside for the return of their men and the start of New Year celebrations.

There were reported to be 280 aboard and the official death toll was given as 205, although passenger manifests were incomplete due to massive overcrowding and the real total is thought to be higher. Several were drowned returning to the wreck to rescue brothers, cousins and friends, after first managing to swim ashore. Only the loss of the SS Norge off Rockall in 1904 had a higher loss of life.

There wasn't a commuity on Lewis that wasn't affected by the disaster; a couple of settlements lost all their male inhabitants. This was in a wider community that was already ravaged by the war. From a total population of less than 30,000 on Lewis, more than 6,700 men volunteered to fight, and, listed on the war memorial, 1150 were killed; a mortality rate of 17%, more than twice the national average.

The tragedy is though to have had a real impact in the decline of the traditional way of life and in the use of the Gaelic language.

There is a rather good book about the subject called When I Heard the Bell: The Loss of the Iolaire by John Macleod, a decendent of a survivor.

774052.  Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:06 am Reply with quote

There are many maritime disasters that get less than the recognition they deserve "the greatest loss of life in a maritime disaster in history"


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