Western Isles prepares to mark Iolaire centenary

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Preparations are continuing for a series of events for the centenary commemoration of the Iolaire disaster in the Western Isles.

A total of 201 island sailors, returning from the First World War, died in the early hours of January 1, 1919, when the Iolaire sank after running aground on the rocks off Holm on the east coast of Lewis. It remains the worst maritime disaster during peacetime in the UK.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has agreed to host a community event on the evening of December 31, 2018, and a formal civic event on January 1, 2019.

In addition, there will be participation by schools throughout the islands and many other community-orientated events.

The centenary commemoration events are being overseen by the Iolaire Working Party comprised of representatives of the comhairle, Comuinn Eachraidh, Sandwick Community Council, Stornoway Historical Society and Museum nan Eilean. The comhairle is also liaising with the Royal Navy and Scottish Commemorations Panel.

A new Facebook page has been launched which will provide updates over the coming months on the events being planned. The page can be accessed at https://www.facebook.com/AnIolaire

A Community Remembers, the community event to be held on December 31, 2018, is at an early stage but plans include a lecture, military and school band performances, poetry readings and songs, drama and a spiritual element.

Weather dependent, there are plans for a vigil at the memorial at Holm in the early hours of January 1, 2019, with a short service and laying of wreaths timed to coincide with events on the night of January 1, 1919. A service during the day of January 1, 2019, is also being planned.

A planning application has been submitted to improve the path leading to the Iolaire memorial at Holm.

Councillor Norman A MacDonald, convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and chairman of the Iolaire Working Group, said: ‘This commemoration is of major significance for our islands. The events of that terrible night in January 1919 impacted on communities throughout the Western Isles and remain a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by our young men in the service of their country. It is the worst tragedy to befall our islands and its effect reverberates to this day.

‘The comhairle would wish to record our gratitude to the Scott family for their continuing support in relation to the improvement of the path leading down to the memorial.’

It is anticipated that a public meeting will be held early in the New Year to discuss progress being made with these plans.