The readers’ stories of the Iolaire


1.  My grampa's younger brother, Donald MacLeod (7 Marbhig, then Stornoway), died coming into harbour on the Iolaire. From the memorial in South Lochs I think two of my greatgrandparents' brothers were killed in the war, as well as losing Donald. My grandfather Alasdair was forbidden from fishing anymore for fear he'd drown too, after his family's losses. A torment for him, as he loved the sea and fishing. He drove for Lord Leverhulme then went to the shipyards in Glasgow to make some money. He returned to Stornoway for a short time then came to Canada on one of the two ships for which there were no passenger lists. Settled in our praries for a time (no water at all) then went west to Vancouver Island for the remainder of his lifetime... built himself a little boat and enjoyed it to the end in 1980. So fortunate I visited Stornoway last summer and saw for myself why Alaisdair chose looked so like Stornoway... His mother I think suffered too much heartbreak for it all and was a lost soul in the sanatorium for the rest of her life. And oddly, when I've written lyrics all through my life they have been laden with images of water, and the sea...long before I knew of this event in my family's history. Funny how these things can follow you. I'd not be at all if it weren't for the Iolaire disaster...a ponderous thought, that.


2.   I knew nothing of the Iolaire Disaster [...]. Very moving but tragic that more people don't know more about a large group of young men taken in such tragic circumstances. To have survived a war and then die within sight of home is beyond belief." 

3.   I only found that my grandfather's first cousin [...] was lost on the Iolaire when I looked up his death certificate. The family had never mentioned or talked of him. I go to Harris and will post a photo of his headstone after my next visit. I only learned of how he died after my last trip to the island."

4. My grandmother was due to marry William Head that very day. She was there wating for him.She gave birth to my mother six months later. Her life and my mother's life would have been very different if he had survived. I wondered whether it was a story, but his name is there. Thank you, We shall visit some time.

5. I knew Neil Nicolson , Lemreway .in my lifetime with..never spoke of that awful night, but  I know it affected him badly ...

6. Kenneth Smith from Earshader, just south of the Bernera Bridge, perished. His suitcase was recovered and found to contain gifts for his family including a fringed shawl, a silk scarf and a silk handkerchief with "Gibraltar" written on it, and some brown silk material that was later used to make a dress for his daughter Marion. Marion recalled that it was so fine it had to be lined with a dark material.

7. My great uncle Donald Macaskill died in the sinking of HMY Iolaire. His brother Duncan made it to shore because Donald gave him his life vest. (Donald was a better swimmer) Duncan said he had Donald on his back holding on and then he slipped away. My Grandfather, Angus turned bodies over as they washed up for three days on the shore line but Donald was lost to the sea. The tragedy had severe effects on our family and has never recovered. I've visited the island 4 times and always pay my respects and cry.

A heartfelt thanks to the bravery of John F. Macleod who heroicly saved several men by securing a line to shore for the men to follow. The picture of of my great uncle Donald is not one our family has in our records. If you ever get a chance to visit Stornoway and visit the memorial, you will see the Beasts of Holm. Just their name sends a chill through my body.

Murdo Kennedy of 4 Cromore, son of John and Ishbel Kennedy (Shonnie Ruadh) was apparently in charge of the mortuary. He was a medical student but had done war service.

An article in the Glasgow Herald of 12 January 1999 offers some of the Harris perspective.

Last updated 16 April 2009