CalMac ferry passengers to commemorate Iolaire tragedy

© SuppliedA tiled section, perhaps of the galley deck in a photograph by former Royal Navy diver Chris Murray.
A tiled section, perhaps of the galley deck in a photograph by former Royal Navy diver Chris Murray.

CalMac’s biggest ferry will take 250 passengers on a poignant New Year’s Day voyage to commemorate the centenary of one of the worst maritime disasters in British history.

The Loch Seaforth will take part in a special ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the Iolaire tragedy off Stornoway.

The Iolaire was taking sailors who had fought in WWI back to Lewis when disaster struck just before 2am on January 1, 1919.

As the ship approached Stornoway, she hit the infamous rocks The Beasts of Holm, and eventually sank just half a mile from the safety of the harbour. A total of 201 men died, with only 79 survivors.


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A special Iolaire Memorial Service will take place at Holm.

The Loch Seaforth will sail out into the bay at 11.15am on January 1 to coincide with the service beginning at noon.

A total of 201 pupils from across the islands will throw flowers into the sea to represent the 201 men who were tragically lost.

The service on board will be led by Rev James Maciver of the Stornoway Free Church.

CalMac Ferries managing director Robbie Drummond said: “There were many seafarers who lost their lives in this incident who had close ties with the company.

“Current master of the MV Loch Seaforth, John Gilles, himself had a relative who drowned, so it is fitting that a Caledonian MacBrayne vessel is playing such an important role in this 100 year commemoration service for those who perished.”

Norman A MacDonald, Chairman of the Iolaire Working Group, said: “We are grateful to CalMac for all their support with the commemoration events and for making the MV Loch Seaforth available for this special commemoration service on 1st January 2019.”

Meanwhile, former Stornoway search and rescue helicopter winchman Chris Murray has asked to place a wreath on the wreck.

He recently took stark photographs of all that is left of the ship.

Mr Murray, a former Royal Navy diver, said: “The boiler and the prop shaft are all that largely remain of the Iolaire, which is about 30ft down.

“In 100 years there will be nothing left. Anything of any value – the guns, the engine etc – was taken away by the Admiralty after she sunk.

“I have asked the Iolaire Working Group to allow me and fellow diver Gordon Maclean to place a wreath on the ship on New Year’s Day as a mark of respect.”


A memorial service will be held in the Western Isles to mark the centenary of one of the worst wartime maritime disasters.

The Iolaire sank just half a mile from the harbour in Stornoway as it brought men back from World War I.

To mark their sacrifice, the ceremony will be held at the Iolaire Memorial at Holm on New Year’s Day at noon.

There will be shuttle buses running from The Nicolson Institute bus park, and motorists are being advised that Holm Road will be closed during the service with no other access available. Parking in the town centre will be free.

© Supplied
The Iolaire floundered on New Year’s Day in 1919, approximately two miles from Stornoway.

Attendees are being urged to dress appropriately for the weather conditions. There will be no shelter or seating provided.

The service will also be broadcast live on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal.

Meanwhile, CalMac will hold an onboard service to mark the anniversary, led by Rev James MacIver, of Stornoway Free Church.

Symbolically, 201 children from across the islands will throw flowers into the sea to represent the 201 onboard who perished.

The ferry will sail out into the bay at 11.15am, and there is space for 250 members of the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Tickets can be reserved at CalMac’s Stornoway office from 9am-11am and 3pm-5pm from December 3-7.

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