Arts, heritage and publishing come together to remember the Iolaire

In the Outer Hebrides, 6,200 men served in WWI, and some 800 died, the highest per capita for any community in Britain.

And yet on the Isle of Lewis, it is the tragedy which occurred after the Armistice which defines that bitter experience.

In the early hours of New Years Day 1919, HMY Iolaire sank at the entrance to Stornoway Harbour with the loss of 205 servicemen. There were but 79 survivors.

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The worst peacetime shipping disaster in British Coastal Waters this century and yet outside the islands remains relatively unknown.

An Lanntair, Acair Books and the new Museum nan Eilean at Lews Castle have come together to collaborate on a project that will finally open eyes and ears to this tragic event, 100 years on.

The project will be a multi-venue arts and heritage exhibition across Museum nan Eilean and An Lanntair arts centre during 2018 and 2019 of artist responses to the Iolaire event, the stories, the lives lost and the survivors.

An intergenerational programme of educational workshops in the community will also invite young people to create and exhibit their own creative responses.

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And writers and historians Malcolm MacDonald and Donald John Macleod will work with Acair to publish in Gaelic and English the full story of all 281 men aboard, uncovering many hidden stories.

Comhairle Convener, Cllr Norman A MacDonald said: “I am very pleased that the project has reached this stage. This is a very emotive event for the people of Lewis and Harris.

“The exhibition, the publication and the education programme will reflect on the impact of the disaster, bringing to light the many stories of those who were lost and those who survived.”

The project will explore the legacy of the disaster on the community itself.

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The sheer scale of it in the context of a small community gave it its extraordinary intensity.

The timing and closeness to home made it incomprehensible and unbearable. Every village in Lewis and Harris lost fathers, sons, brothers and were left with scores of widows and fatherless children, creating a lasting trauma that runs deep into the community.