MSPs have marked the upcoming centenary of the Iolaire disaster with a poignant debate remembering the suffering endured by the people of the Western Isles.
The grief experienced by Lewis and Harris islanders was recalled by MSPs yesterday, almost 100 years after hundreds of local men lost their lives when the HMY Iolaire struck rocks three miles off Stornoway.
MSPs spoke movingly of the catastrophic loss of island men almost within touching distance of home at the end of the ill-fated voyage that was supposed to reunite them with their families after the war.
Hebridean MSPs spoke of their own families’ links to the tragedy as they spoke in support of motion tabled by Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan.
Opening his speech in Gaelic, Mr Allan introduced his motion recording Holyrood’s “great sadness” at the tragic events of January 1 1919 that saw the deaths of at least 201 men, most of whom had been on active service in the Royal Navy.
The motion commended the efforts being made in the community to mark the centenary and the disaster’s “devastating impact” on the Western Isles, which had already lost 1,300 men in the war.
Mr Allan recalled that the grief for those who lost loved ones was “so raw” that the terrible events of New Year’s Day 1919 were “scarcely spoken about” for at least 60 years.
Angus MacDonald, the SNP MSP for Falkirk East who is from Lewis, said he was brought up on Stoneyfield Farm, a short distance from where the Iolaire ran aground on the Beasts of Holm.
“At the time of the tragedy, my grandfather and my three great-uncles were in their late teens and early 20s, living in the village of Sandwick, next to the farms,” Mr MacDonald said. “They would have been involved in the retrieval of the
bodies from the shores of Sandwick beach and around the farm shoreline on that fateful day.”
North East MSP Lewis Macdonald said his grandfather Donald John Macdonald from the Isle of Berneray, off Harris, had served in the navy with many of those drowned. He knew Norman MacKillop,19, and Donald Paterson,18, two young men from
Bernerary who perished. Mr Macdonald also remembered David McDonald from Aberdeen, who at the age of 17 was the youngest fatality.
Green MSP John Finnie condemned the 1919 naval inquiry into the disaster for failing to apportion blame, claiming it illustrated that the survival of ordinary ratings was “not valued”.