The highly acclaimed documentary commemorating the Iolaire disaster, ‘In Sight of Home: The Iolaire’, is due to be broadcast on BBC Scotland on Sunday, September 22nd at 9pm. It will be repeated on Tuesday, September 24th at 11pm.
This tragedy - arguably the greatest to befall the west coast of Scotland remains, to this day, largely unknown.
This documentary made in the year of the 100th anniversary, the people of Lewis tell their story to the rest of the nation through their words and testimonies.
On the 1st January 1919, having survived the First World War, in excess of 250 naval men were returning home to celebrate their first New Year of peace. But in the blackest of nights, in a rising gale, HMY Iolaire sank within yards of the Lewis coast.
During the First World War the Western Isles had disproportionately suffered greatly but no one expected further loss after peace had broken out a few weeks earlier and the marine seamen were sailing in sight of home.
Esteemed author and local historian Malcolm Macdonald and Lewis writer Joni Buchanan explore the feelings of expectation as the marine seamen returned from war and explain the aftermath and shock that spread throughout the island ultimately to touch generations.
In this moving account of the disaster, using extensive audio and video archive, all aspects of the story are covered, including tales of extraordinary bravery and foresight.
Notable amongst them is John Finlay MacLeod, who made it to shore with a rope from the sinking ship, thereby providing a lifeline to half of the 79 Iolaire survivors.
Donald Morrison climbed the mast as the ship went down and clung on as she submerged. He was picked up alive the next morning at 10 o’clock, having spent eight hours in the water.
The story also examines how the disaster has shaped the identity of the islanders in the subsequent years, arguably contributing to the mass emigration of the 1920s and the population decrease that continued through much of the 20th century.
The programme also explores how the silence of a community paralysed by grief has eventually found expression through art, poetry and song.
Lewis musician Iain Morrison, who discovers that his own great-grandmother, destitute after the loss of her husband and bread-winner on The Iolaire, had to write to the authorities for financial assistance, details how his contemporary work of music called ‘Sàl’ - ‘Salt Water’ helped him find hope.