MacPhail: the tragedy of the Iolaire

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In just a few days, as we celebrate the closing of this year and the beginning of the next, the centenary anniversary of the Iolaire disaster will be marked with many events of solemn commemoration.

This was one of the most cuttingly cruel tragedies ever to occur during war or peacetime.

The loss of more than 200 lives in any accident is tragic but there were many specific circumstances that make the extent of the cruel irony of the loss of the Iolaire difficult to comprehend.

The islands of Lewis and Harris had already lost more men per head of population that any other area of the UK. The war was over and, against
the odds, these men had survived and were in sight of home.

Because most of the island men were seamen, with many having been fishermen before the war began, any number of those on board, had they been on the bridge, could have navigated the ship safely into Stornoway.

The fact that they were due home and to be reunited with their loved ones on New Year’s Day added to the sense of relief and anticipation, and by virtue of that joy, made the shock and pain of the loss all the more devastating.

The following lyrics were written as a tribute to the men who were lost and to the people of Lewis and Harris.

I wish you all a happy New Year when it comes but as we enter the early hours of January 1, I and many others across the world will be thinking of the men who 100 years ago had come through four years of the horrors of war to be so cruelly drowned on the shores of their native island.

Iolaire

Eilean Fraoich, I yearn to see you.
Sing to me the Island Ocean
Through the cries of war I hear you.
Far to the west and worlds away
From the futile fields of war.

Island men I hear them calling.
Sing to me the Island Ocean
Killed in vain, I see them falling.
Oh take me west and worlds away
From the futile fields of war.

Four brutal years were unforgiving.
Sing to me the Island Ocean
By grace of god I yet was living.
And sailing west and worlds away
From the futile fields of war

The harbour lights I see them gleaming.
Sing to me the Island Ocean
Nearly home and I am dreaming.I’m in the west and worlds away
From the futile fields of war.

The Beasts of Holm were dark and savage,
Sing to me the Island Ocean
Their scythe of fate would blindly ravage
Far to the west and worlds away
From the futile fields of war.

New Year of peace would dawn tomorrow,
Sing to me the Island Ocean
From hope and joy to wrenching sorrow
Far to the west and worlds away
From the futile fields of war.

My lover’s kiss, her arms around me
Sing to me the Island Ocean
So near, but on the shore she found me
Far to the west and worlds away
From the futile fields of war.

The morning tide brought home our boys.
They lay among the scattered toys.
Our tears of love and deep relief
Became the tears of tearing grief.