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New app tells the story of the Iolaire tragedy of World War I

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Scottish researchers have created a digital visualisation revealing the untold stories of those killed in the tragic sinking of HMY Iolaire on 1 January 1919.

HMY Iolaire was returning sailors to the Western Isles from fighting in World War I when it foundered on rocks and sank on New Year’s Day 1919. The final death toll was 205, of whom 181 were from the islands, devastating the communities on both Lewis and Harris.

To mark the centenary of the tragedy, researchers from Abertay University and the University of the Highlands and Islands have developed an online application, Visualising the Iolaire, that provides a virtual map of the disaster. It details those that died, identifies the communities directly and indirectly impacted, while also documenting how people have been memorialised on the island.

 'Sorrow heaped upon sorrow'

The development of the online application has been led by Dr Iain Donald from the School of Design and Informatics at Abertay University. He said: “The original aim of the project was to look at how the impact of a single event can transform a community. Previously we have looked at how the 4th Black Watch casualties at the Battle of Loos in 1915 had impacted the city of Dundee. 

“The story of the Iolaire is especially poignant as it occurred after the war was over and was bringing sailors home to be with friends and family for New Year in 1919. Working with Dr Iain Robertson at the University of the Highlands and Islands and the community partners on this project has demonstrated what a heavy price the Western Isles paid during the war, and the Iolaire tragedy was sorrow heaped upon sorrow.”

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council's ‘Living Legacies 1914-18’ WW1 engagement centre, which has been helping to fund community led research projects to mark the centenary of the First World War.

It is a collaboration between Abertay University and the University of the Highlands and Islands, in partnership with the Kinloch Historical Society, Sandwick Community Council and Museum nanEilean (Heritage Service of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar). 

Explore the app here.

QUICK LINK: Scottish songs of World War I

History Scotland Jan Feb 2019

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