Biastan Thuilm, The Beasts of Holm, feature


A new sculpture will be created to commemorate hundreds of sailors who lost their lives when the naval yacht which was carrying them home at the end of World War One was wrecked off the coast of Lewis.

HMY Iolaire went down after colliding with a reef called the Beasts of Holm near Stornoway in the early hours of 1 January 1919, with 201 men losing their lives. Most were returning service men and 179 came from the Isle of Lewis.

The Beast of Holms, the site of the disaster.
The Beast of Holms, the site of the disaster.

Stornoway-based arts centre An Lanntair has announced plans for the installation of a new Centenary Sculpture which will overlook the site of the disaster, one of the most devastating peacetime tragedies in British maritime history.

The commissioned artists are Royal Scottish Academicians Will Maclean, Marian Leven and Arthur Watson, and the sculpture will be made of bronze and stone and will also bear the names of those lost and the communities they came from. It will feature a bronze wreath composed of maritime insignia and a bronze depiction of a coiled heaving line, a rope which was used in the rescue of the survivors. This references the heroism of John Finlay Macleod who swam ashore with the rope by which some 40 of the 79 men were saved.

An illustration of a heaving line, a rope used in the rescue of survivors which will be depicted in bronze as a feature of the new sculpture.

The sculpture is scheduled to be unveiled and dedicated on the morning of the centenary of the disaster.

Professor Norman Drummond CBE FRSE, Chair Scottish Commemorations Panel, said: “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.”

Backing the project are the Gael Force Group and Stornoway Port Authority, whose contributions have been matched by an 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.

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.”

Roddy Murray, Head of Visual Arts at An Lanntair Arts Centre, Stornoway, which has commissioned the sculpture, 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.”