New research to narrate story and impact of Iolaire tragedy

20 December 2021
A new research project, ‘The Iolaire Impact’ is underway to explore how the story of the Iolaire tragedy, one of the worst maritime disasters in UK waters of the 20th century, is told and preserved for future generations at a new Iolaire centre in Stornoway.

The research is being led by the University of the Highlands and Islands and includes oral testimony and archival research from both local sources and internationally from the Scottish diaspora. The project has received funding through the Scottish Government’s innovation voucher scheme, administered by Interface, the businesses-academic matching service.

What was the Iolaire disaster?

The sinking of the Iolaire (which at the time was named the Amalthaea), took place on 1 January 1919 at the entrance to Stornoway harbour, Isle of Lewis. The yacht struck rocks on entry to the harbour, with the loss of at least 201 lives. Many of those on board were Royal Navy reservists returning from service in World War I.

Find out more about the disaster at the Iolaire Centre website.

Researching the Iolaire's long-term legacy

University of the Highlands and Islands Visiting Professor and Senior Researcher on the project Professor Marjory Harper, said: “As an historian of emigration and the Scottish diaspora, I am particularly interested in how the tragedy of the Iolaire contributed to a significant increase in emigration from Lewis in the 1920s, and to the long-term legacy.”

Director and Trustee of the Iolaire Centre Charity and author of The Darkest Dawn, Malcolm Macdonald said; “It is still evident that there are many family stories which require further research before memories fade even further. Records from the time need to be extensively scrutinised.”

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“The centenary commemorations of 2019 testify that the feelings of the community are still mourning the enormous loss and what it meant to such a small community over the years. The impact of the disaster still casts a shadow on these islands. It is most important that everything pertaining to the Iolaire is recorded for posterity as it is a vitally important part of the islands’ history.”

The Iolaire Centre is sponsored by Highlands and Islands Marine Equipment firm Gael Force Group and supported by HIE and Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar. 

(Report courtesy The Iolaire Centre)