Highlands & Islands

New Gaelic music to mark Iolaire disaster

Beasts of Holm Image copyright Roddy Murray
Image caption A yacht carrying sailors home after the end of World War One was wrecked on a reef called the Beasts of Holm

New pieces of Gaelic music have been commissioned to mark the Iolaire disaster, in which 205 men died.

The yacht was wrecked on a reef called the Beasts of Holm, just off the Isle of Lewis, in the early hours of 1 January 1919.

It had been carrying home hundreds of sailors after the end of World War One.

Artists involved in the music project include BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Julie Fowlis and violinist and composer Duncan Chisholm.

Lewis-born piper and composer Iain Morrison, whose great-grandfather was among those who drowned, is also involved.

The music has been commissioned by World War One centenary arts project 14-18 NOW and Lewis arts venue An Lanntair.

Image caption Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis is involved in the project

Most of those who died in the disaster were from Lewis or Harris, but many communities across the Western Isles were affected.

The last survivor of the Iolaire - which means "eagle" in Gaelic - died in 1992.

The yacht set sail from Kyle of Lochalsh on the west Highlands mainland on New Year's Eve 1918.

Making its final approach into Stornoway harbour on a dark night and in a strong gale, it changed course at the wrong point.

With the lights of the harbour in sight, the ship struck rocks at full speed and immediately began to tilt, filling up with water.

Although the stern of the boat was at one point just six metres (20ft) from land, many of the men onboard were weighed down by their heavy uniforms and were unable to swim ashore.

A public inquiry was unable to establish the reasons for the disaster.

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