Summer 2022: Stornoway
The second leg of our 2022 summer trip took us by ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. On arrival, we did little more than have lunch and take a quick look at the harbour before heading for our holiday cottage on the other side of the island. We noticed the Stornoway Herring Girl and Sheòl an Iolaire / The Iolaire Sailed, the latter being new since I last visited.
On 1st January 1919, HMY Iolaire ran aground on rocks nearby. She was laden with naval reservists returning home from war and of 280 men on board only 79 survived. The Iolaire Sailed was installed at the centenary – it represents the exact shape and size of the ship with one post for each person on board, the white posts marking survivors. The installation appears and disappears with each tide and is lit at night to finally guide the ship home – a poignant thought.
One week later, we were back in Stornoway with more time to explore as we waited for our afternoon ferry. First we visited Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (the church on the isthmus), or St Columba’s, Ui, one of the best preserved pre-Reformation churches on Lewis. The earliest parts are thought to date to the 13th or 14th centuries.
Several important grave markers are kept undercover for preservation. Nineteen chiefs of the Clan Macleod are said to be buried here: the one with the effigy of a warrior is that of Roderick Macleod, 7th chief, who died in 1498.
And of course, graveyards in general always fascinate me. Here, they seemed to like essays on their memorials. They also seemed to breed saints. Witness the manly, frank, and generous Dr Angus Macleod who died at the young age of 28 in 1902.
And here is another doctor, Donald Macdonald, who died in 1907, and left to his family “the priceless inheritance of an honourable name, and to his widow her pride in sharing it”. I hope he also left some means of supporting them!
From the church we took a circular stroll along Broad Bay and back via the monument to the Aiginis farm raiders of 1888. During the Highland Clearances, crofting families were forcibly removed from land their ancestors had farmed for generations in favour of more profitable sheep and cattle farming. In January 1888 the men and women of Aiginis, facing starvation and poverty, rebelled and seized the farm. The government, rather than trying to understand their desperation, brought in the military to take it back. Thirteen men were imprisoned, but although the raid was unsuccessful in the short term it marked an important point in the struggle for land reform, and in 1905 the government caved in and divided Aiginis Farm into crofts. (Sadly, by this time many of the original raiders were dead).
As if this was not sad enough, we then drove to the spot where the Iolaire went down, Holm Rock, or the Beasts of Holm, where there are various monuments of different vintages. The markers in the water show just how close the ship was to the shore.
As you can see in the last image above, the Loch Seaforth was steadily approaching Stornoway, our signal to drive back to the ferry terminal to get into the queue for boarding. We arrived in Ullapool in the early evening, and stayed another night there before heading off for part 3 of our holiday – but that will have to wait until I’ve told you about our week on Lewis in between these two Stornoway visits.
I’m always impressed by how much thought and planning goes into a monument like the one for HMY Iolaire. It must be very moving to witness it disappearing and reappearing with the tides.
It must be. We weren’t there long enough to observe that and were, I suppose, to see it exposed.
That was a great read – thank you! Never knew of the Iolaire tragedy before – the memorials are so poignant.
Thank you! It’s a very sad story.
Since I live in a country that is relatively young, I’m always impressed when I see markers that are so old! It’s one of my favorite parts of visiting Europe…
We have so much history, but it’s the little things like these markers that I like the best.
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I stayed 3 nights in Stornoway in May last year, but didn’t have the opportunity to see much in the immediate area. I’d have liked to have visited the Aiginis monument and pay homage to those trying to fight back against the landlords
It was very moving, and coupled with the church which is just next to it made an interesting visit. Although we’d been to Stornoway before we hadn’t been out to that part, or to the site of the Iolaire sinking.