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New Iolaire exhibition to open in Sandwick Community Hall

An exhibition on the Iolaire tragedy is to be held in Sandwick Community Hall – the hall nearest to the site of the disaster – and will be formally opened on Thursday, December 6 at 6pm.

The exhibition has been put together by Stornoway Historical Society and will be on display in the upstairs rooms through the months of December, January and February.

It will be open three days a week – Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays – and, though it will shut for Christmas, will be open on New Year’s Day, the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

The idea for the exhibition came from Sandwick Community Council, who began planning a commemoration programme for the Iolaire back in 2013. Their wish list included a new path to the site and memorial, which has now been completed, research into the links between the disaster and the Point and Sandwick area and an exhibition in the community.

It was strongly felt that material about the Iolaire should be exhibited in the Sandwick Community Hall as this was the public venue closest to the disaster site, being less than one mile away from the Beasts of Holm (shown here in this fantastic picture by Chris Murray), where the yacht hit the rocks with the loss of 201 lives.

After setting out their wish list, the community council began lobbying and wrote to a number of organisations and politicians.

There were many positive responses, including one from the then First Minister Alex Salmond who visited the site in 2014 with Stornoway Historical Society chairman Malcolm Macdonald – who was at the time working on his Iolaire book, which has now been published.

Councillor Angus McCormack, chair of the exhibition working group and a Sandwick resident himself, recalled: “We had a very positive response from Alex Salmond. He acknowledged that it was a very important community event and promised it would be a national event. He promised the full support of the Scottish Government.”

Iolaire commemorations were incorporated into the national commemoration of The Great War and the formal civic event on January 1, 2019 will be the last official event in the four-year programme.

However, the community council never lost sight of its wish for an exhibition in the local area, remembering the impact it had on the villages of Sandwick.

Stornoway Historical Society took up the idea and it has also been supported by Point Community Council and Point Historical Society.

Our chair Malcolm Macdonald – who has been “completely overwhelmed” lately by the interest in his book, The Darkest Dawn – said the exhibition would be “substantial”.

Organised by the women of the Stornoway Historical Society committee, he said: “They’re trying to provide details that aren’t necessarily in the book and look at it from a different perspective.”

There will be images of some of the men from the book – those from the Point, Sandwick and Stornoway areas – and he said it was important to have the exhibition in Sandwick as these were the villages through which some survivors, barefoot and shocked, would have walked afterwards.

He said: “The exhibition is being supported jointly by Point and Sandwick Community Councils and Stornoway Historical Society. These groups got together to recognise that Holm is the place where the tragedy occurred and a lot of the dead are buried in Sandwick Cemetery.
“It was certainly felt as very important to those living in the community that the exhibition was in Sandwick Hall and the Stornoway Historical Society backed that.”

Angus McCormack said: “Stornoway Historical Society have been absolutely excellent and very, very committed. I’m absolutely blown away by the commitment – it’s first class.

“The foundation of it all, of course, is the book. The Darkest Dawn is a huge resource for us.

“What a wonderful book it is and we are so pleased as a Historical Society to be associated with it. We’ve known about it for years and years and, of course, Malcolm has been talking about it in here. Because of the publicity associated with the book, people have come forward with information with Malcolm could have included in the book… so we will have new information in that regard.”

All the information gathered will be put on display along with photos and memorabilia in three of the four upstairs rooms in Sandwick Community Hall.

Angus admitted he was “delighted” with how it was shaping up.

“I’m really very, very pleased indeed that it’s come together in time – because we have felt, in the community, that it’s important that the community in which this dreadful tragedy took place should in some way commemorate it and this is an excellent way of doing it.

“I think a lot of people are going to come to this exhibition. There is a lot of interest in anything to do with the Iolaire. Everything sells out right away.”

Photograph by Chris Murray