Prince Charles and Nicola Sturgeon attend Iolaire centenary commemorations

The Prince of Wales and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have joined commemorations to mark 100 years since the HMY Iolaire disaster.

Only 82 of the 283 passengers on board the ship are believed to have survived when it smashed into rocks near Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis during the early hours of January 1, 1919.

The men had been returning home to Lewis, Harris and Berneray having survived the First World War.

Crowds gathered at the memorial site on Tuesday to mark a century since the disaster.

HMY Iolaire memorial
HMY Iolaire memorial

Prince Charles gave a reading at the service and met with descendants, while Ms Sturgeon also spoke with members of the public.

They both laid wreaths at a monument which overlooks the scene of the tragedy, as did representatives from emergency services and other organisations.

A note left by Charles read: “In special remembrance of your service and sacrifice.”

Ms Sturgeon said: “As we welcome in the new year, today in Stornoway we rightly look back 100 years and remember those lost on the Iolaire – a tragedy that involved so many, so close to shore and, for most of the men, so close to home.

“We reflect on those who perished and how survivors, family, friends and the wider communities on Lewis, Harris and Berneray must have felt.

“It may have been a century ago but the legacy of the Iolaire will never be forgotten.

“I was honoured to be part of the commemorations and meet descendants.”

Psalms were sang in Gaelic and English during the ceremony, as was the national anthem.

Prayers and moments of silence also ran through the event.

A new sculpture to commemorate the Iolaire, adjacent to the memorial, was shown Prince Charles.

It features a bronze depiction of a coiled heaving line, referencing the acts of John Finlay Macleod who swam out with a rope to rescue 40 of the 79 men who were saved.

One of the wreath-bearers, Lt Alison Ross of the Royal Navy, is his great-great niece through marriage.

The 29-year-old, of Great Bernera, said: “To do what he did at a time like that is pretty incredible.

“I’m so glad I could be here with the Navy, but also with my great-aunt, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the community – it was really quite an honour.

“Every single village on the Isle of Lewis was affected by the disaster.

“It’s such as shame that people weren’t able to talk about it for decades afterwards.

“So it’s really incredible now that 100 years later the whole community can come together.

Artists Will Maclean, Marian Leven and Arthur Watson also unveiled a work which bears the names of those lost and the communities they came from, as well as a bronze wreath composed of maritime insignia.

Robert Mackinnon has served in the coastguard for 25 years and his grandfather – who he is named after – was among the survivors.

The 56-year-old, of Tarbert, said: “I’m here today for two reasons – one is to lay a wreath on behalf of the coastguard.

“The second is my grandfather was a survivor of the Iolaire, who secured a rope and after all that managed to walk 50 miles back to Harris, during the night, with sleet and howling gale.

“You can imagine what was going through his mind after seeing that disaster happen before his eyes.”

As events took place on land, a similar commemoration was held on board Caledonian MacBrayne’s MV Loch Seaforth ferry near where the Iolaire hit the rocks.

More than 500 people were on board, including schoolchildren from the Western Isles who threw 201 red carnations into the sea.

The occasion ended with a diver taking a wreath to the site where the ship sank.