Late on New Year’s Eve 1918, HMY Iolaire set sail from Kyle of Lochalsh in north-west Scotland, carrying nearly 300 seamen home to the Isle of Lewis after the war. But in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1919, the ship sank at the entrance to Stornoway Harbour: 205 servicemen perished in one of the most devastating maritime tragedies in modern British history. The anniversary of the Iolaire disaster on 1st January 2019 will be the final formal event in the official, national four-year programme commemorating the Centenary of The Great War.
As part of our Iolaire Centenary programme An Lanntair have been working with local filmmaker Zoe Macinnes to commission a film about the Iolaire and it’s continued impact on the local communities of the Outer Hebrides today.
To mark the centenary of the tragedy, 14-18 NOW and An Lanntair have commissioned two new suites of Gaelic music. Composed by Lewis-born musician Iain Morrison, whose great-grandfather was among those drowned, and presented with pioneering Scottish artists Dalziel + Scullion, Sàl (Saltwater) has its roots in ceòl mòr, the ‘great music’ of the Highland bagpipes. An Treas Suaile (The Third Wave), by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Julie Fowlis and violinist-composer Duncan Chisholm, mixes new and traditional music, archive recordings and visuals. Its title was inspired by the actions of John Finlay MacLeod, who swam ashore with a rope from the Iolaire and helped save dozens of lives.
As part of her films Zoe has spoken with Julie Fowlis and Duncan Chisholm and discussed their work on An Treas Suaile. They explore the impact and devastation caused by the Iolaire disaster as well as how it is still felt in the islands today. In her films Zoe beautifully explores the ‘sense of place’ and ‘the great silence’ that followed the tragedy and how our local communities are now working to commemorate the Iolaire 100 years on.
Zoe said: “It’s been amazing to have worked on such an important topic with An Lanntair, and I’m so pleased to be able to share these films to commemorate the Centenary.”
Zoe has also been speaking with Creative Scotland about working with An Lanntair and the process of making the films. She said, “….it was really important not to just view this as a topic in history, but as a young islander who understands the sense of tragedy the island itself feels in a disaster. That’s what helped me decide to make the films something other than a mini documentary, it really had to involve that sense of place and unity we all feel as a community.” Read her full Q&A with Creative Scotland on their website.
You can watch the films in full here.