The Iolaire Disaster

Contributed by Museum nan Eilean

The Bell & Engine Plate from the HM Yacht Iolaire. Copyright Museum nan Eilean.

The Iolaire disaster is one of the most tragic stories in the history of the Western Isles.The vessel's bell and name plate were recovered in 1970 by divers in search of clams. On 1st January 1919, the H.M. Yacht Iolaire ran onto the rocks known as the Beasts of Holm and sank in sight of the coast of Lewis, packed with those ex-servicemen who had survived the First World War. 205 men died within twenty yards of the shore just a short distance from the pier at Stornoway. A heavy sea was running and the Iolaire sank in under an hour, only seventy nine men survived. Many survivors owed their life to the bravery of John F. MacLeod, from Ness who got a line and hawser ashore. The "Loyal Lewis' Roll of Honour", described the catastrophe as the "crowning sorrow of the war". Few communities throughout the island were untouched by the tragedy. This is the worst maritime disaster in UK waters in peacetime since SS Norge off Rockall in 1904, and the worst involving a British ship since the Titanic in 1912.

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