Like most of the country we have watched and read much about the sinking of the Titanic. Yet only through our interest in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland have we become aware of a maritime disaster closer to our own shore: the sinking of the Iolaire.
On the night of the 1st January 1919 over 200 men returning from the horror of war were drowned when the Iolaire sank just minutes from the safety of Stornoway Harbour. It was the final leg of a long journey home. About 181 of the men were natives of Lewis and Harris. Their loss had a profound effect on these island communities.
The boat was overloaded and sailing in stormy seas such was the desperation of the men to get home. Some had turned down the offer of waiting for the next sailing a day later.
The only accessible written account of the Iolaire disaster is an excellent book by John Macleod – ‘When I hear the bell’, 2009.
To this day it remains Britain’s worst maritime disaster after the Titanic, occurring just seven years later. Perhaps we will remember them in 2019.