Commemorations held over New Year 2019 helped to heal the pain of generations, and honoured those who died in the Iolaire tragedy, according to speakers at an event at Holyrood last night (Tuesday March 12th).

The Burns Room at Holyrood was the venue for a reception in honour of the centenary, hosted by na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan, and especially aimed at a celebration of the authoritative book on the tragedy, The Darkest Dawn, by Malcolm Macdonald and Donald John Macleod, published in November 2018 by Stornoway publishers Acair.

Welcoming over 100 guests to the invitation-only event, Dr Allan said: “All are to be commended for producing such a substantial contribution to the Iolaire centenary. Everybody knows that the Iolaire was a subject not talked about in Lewis and Harris, because it was so painful. The book, and other commemorations, have been very valuable in putting that right.

“This was a subject too difficult to talk about in the islands for 60-80 years, and for many families the centenary was the first opportunity to share properly. Many felt it was the first time they had permission to speak about the events and it has brought a sense of peace and a feeling of honour for the men of the Iolaire, who were real people from very particular communities and families.

“I want to express my appreciation to the authors, the publishers and to everyone who has made this book possible. In doing so they greatly honour the communitues from which they come.”

Participating in the evening presentation were author Malcolm Macdonald, who talked about the process of researching and writing the book, and readers of extracts Donald Morrison (Ness) and Donald Martin, chairman of the board of publishers, Acair.

Film-maker Catriona Black explained and showed her short animated film Tha thu air Aigeann m’Intinn and some of the 100 portraits by artist Margaret Ferguson, recently exhibited by An Lanntair, were on display around the Holyrood committee room.

Catriona Murray, chair of Comhairle nan Leabhraichean (The Gaelic Books Council), who chaired the evening’s presentation said:

“I grew up knowing about the Iolaire disaster, but not in any great detail. The very mention of the word was enough to halt a conversation in its tracks. There developed a silence that continued almost until now.

“One hundred years on, events, concerts, exhibitions and media programmes all brought the story to life. Every time I have been to one of these events I have come away with more insight into the tragedy and its impact on our society. This substantial and authoritative book has made a very great contribution to that process.”

Pictures show Alasdair Allan MSP, Acair general manager Agnes Rennie, Malcolm Macdonald and Catriona Murray speaking at last night’s event, the publishing team and contributors, artist Margaret Ferguson with An Lanntair artistic director Roddy Murray and some of the invited guests, who included descendants of some of the men lost, survivors and witnesses of the tragedy.