It is just after 9 o'clock, and the sun rises over the mountains of mainland Scotland. Its light sweeps west, and shows up a ship's mast protruding from the sea, only a few dozen yards from the shore of Holm Point. The figure of a man can be made out, as he holds on for dear life. As he has done for nigh upon seven hours. Others had been with him, but their strength had given out, and had fallen into the sea below. The man is saved from his precarious position. He had been one of about three hundred on board Iolaire who had left Kyle the evening before, expecting to arrive in Stornoway at 2 am. Instead, two hundred would never return home, and some sixty would never be retrieved.
A gruesome sight presented itself on the
shores, beaches and rocky outcrops of eastern Lewis, around the bay of
Stornoway. East to Knock, north to Sandwick and Stornoway, south to
Grimshader. One hundred and forty bobbed on the tide, lost in the Iolaire.
Those that could be retrieved were taken to the naval base at the
Battery in Stornoway, to be identified and collected by family.
who had not yet had news of the tragedy would soon receive it, as
elders of the church went round, the bearers of the news of loss. A
brother, a father. An uncle, a nephew. A son, a cousin. No village was
spared. No family who was not directly or indirectly affected. The
stories abound, but are not readily told.
It is 2017,
and dawn has broken on a new year. Seven years ago, several hundred
gathered at the little memorial at Holm Point to remember. It was a
beautiful mild winter's day, with not a breath of wind. We looked
south, across the Minch, where the jagged humps of the Shiants, the
distant lines of Skye, and on a day of exceptional clarity, even the
hills behind Kyle can be made out, 75 miles away. In this day and age, a
short journey. In 1919, a journey that was never completed by two
hundred and five souls.
Rest in peace.
A full listing of names can be found here