The Life Line: Commemorating the Iolaire Disaster with a New Centenary Sculpture.

  • Published on: 13th February 2018
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The Life Line: Commemorating the Iolaire Disaster with a New Centenary Sculpture.


An Lanntair has announced plans for the installation of a new Centenary Sculpture at Holm at the approach to Stornoway Harbour.  It overlooks the site of one of the most devastating peacetime tragedies in British maritime history when HMY Iolaire foundered on the Beasts of Holm in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1919 with the loss of 201 lives.  Most were returning service men and 179 came from the Isle of Lewis.

Total costs are £100k and backing the project are the Gael Force Group and Stornoway Port Authority, whose contributions have been matched by a £35k award from Arts & Business Scotland’s Culture & Business Fund Scotland, which aims to encourage active collaboration between businesses and the cultural sector by matching business sponsorship of cultural projects pound for pound. Other major donors are Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn, Horshader Community Trust, Point & Sandwick Trust and Tolsta Community Development.  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has also been a key partner and supporter.

Professor Norman Drummond CBE FRSE, Chair Scottish Commemorations Panel:  ‘Since the start of the commemorations for the centenary of World War I in 2014, WW100 Scotland and the Scottish Commemorations Panel have learned so many moving stories of loss and tragedy.  Few can be as shocking as the sinking of HMY Iolaire and the loss of so many men from Lewis and Harris on the final stretch of their journey home.  Theirs is a story which deserves to be remembered for generations and this latest memorial sculpture, with the names of each one of those lost, provides a very strong reminder of the courageous endurance and patient forbearance felt throughout the Western Isles and Scotland and far beyond, then and since.’

The commissioned artists are Royal Scottish Academicians Will Maclean, Marian Leven and Arthur Watson and the design will feature two bronzes within a semi-circular stone enclosure.  It will also bear the names of those lost and the communities they came from.

The central bronze will depict a large coiled heaving-line.  This references the heroism of John Finlay Macleod who swam ashore with the rope by which some 40 of the 79 men were saved.  It also serves as a metaphor for the Isles’ connection with the sea, and the timeless dialogue between ship and shore, the past and the present.  The other bronze will be a wreath composed of maritime insignia wall-mounted within the enclosure.

Norman A Macdonald, Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Chair of the Iolaire Working Group, said: “We are working on a range of projects to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the terrible events of 1st January 1919. Our communities were devastated by the loss of lives that night and it is right that we remember them and mark the occasion in an appropriate manner. I am pleased that part of the commemoration is to be the centenary sculpture commissioned by An Lanntair. I think it is fitting that it will bear the names of those lost and the communities they came from and that the heroic efforts of John Finlay Macleod are depicted by a coiled heaving line. He was a hero that night and, in truth, they were all heroes.”

Scheduled to be unveiled and dedicated on the morning of the Centenary of the disaster, the project has been in development for almost two years.  Roddy Murray, Head of Visual Arts at An Lanntair Arts Centre, Stornoway, which has commissioned it, said “We went through an extensive consultation process for this significant memorial on this most sensitive of subjects.  It commemorates a catastrophe that has resonated through the generations.  For decades it was too painful to acknowledge or mention, far less discuss.  One hundred years on the conversation is about healing, legacy and closure.”

Crucially and appropriately” he continued “it is being funded by donations from within the communities it affected and we are massively indebted to them for their generous contributions.”

Carl Watt, Head of Programmes at Arts & Business Scotland, added: “By matching their sponsorship pound for pound, the Culture & Business Fund Scotland aims to encourage many more businesses that are new to cultural sponsorship to sponsor cultural projects throughout Scotland. It also seeks to strengthen long term collaboration by offering ongoing support for those businesses sponsoring cultural projects in their second and third years. Partnerships such as Gael Force Group and Stornoway Port Authority’s joint sponsorship of the Iolaire disaster memorial sculpture are a great example of how businesses and cultural organisations can work together for mutual benefit and make a positive, long-lasting impact that inspires and enriches the local community in which they work.”




For more information on An Lanntair please contact Kathryn Lamont Smith, Head of Marketing at 01851708480 or