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Iolaire Disaster

(Iolaire Tragedy)
1919

One of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in British history, the impact of the disaster was made worse because most of the victims were servicemen returning to the close-knit island communities of Lewis and Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, having survived the First World War. The Admiralty yacht HMS Iolaire had set sail from Kyle of Lochalsh late on the 31st December 1918, overloaded with men trying to get home for New Year celebrations, and foundered on the dangerous rocks of the Beast of Holm early the next morning. Despite being close to the shore and the safety of Stornoway Harbour, there was a strong gale and very rough seas which swamped lifeboats and dashed men against the rocks. 205 men died. Many of the 79 survivors scrambled ashore thanks to a line secured to the rocks by John Finlay Macleod from Port of Ness, who was awarded a Carnegie Hero Fund Medal in 1921 in recognition of his bravery. In the days following the disaster, women of the community walked the shore to look for the bodies of their loved ones; many were never found.

The Iolaire Memorial is located on Holm Point, overlooking the site of the disaster. The bell and engine plate were recovered from the remains of the wreck of the Iolaire in 1970 and are now held by Museum nan Eilean.


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