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To resume where we left off, I was asked a question by Bill Grant about how people recovered. From the Iolaire, 67 women were left widowed and 209 children had lost fathers. A women I met in her mid-90s who was known as Mòr Bhrù—her name was Marion MacLeod, née Smith—was asked by the author John MacLeod what her mother had said of that night years after it had happened. He wrote:
“‘We never spoke of it,’
says Mòr calmly. ‘I never once asked her.’”
That indicates the silence of which Mr Sweeney spoke. The tragedy of the Iolaire in many ways is the pain and the silence, and people not wanting to relive that awful moment.
In finishing, I want to highlight a couple of things. This Friday, I will be in Stornoway in the Nicolson Institute for a dìleab event. It is a memory in song and poetry to the loss of the Iolaire and the men who were on it. It is worth highlighting that in Sheshader and Point, a former principal teacher of English—he was in the Nicolson Institute when I was there; he was also a principal teacher of rugby, incidentally—and local resident Mike Shailes are making a point of marking the Iolaire by going round and putting stones and marks in the 10 houses. There were 10 men from Sheshader on the Iolaire and all 10 drowned that day. The village had already lost 10 in world war one. There were 300 people living in Sheshader and Point. There are now 120. Incidentally, six were lost in world war two. The two people I mentioned have gone around and marked the ruins and houses where people lived. That is a commendable effort of memory.
Finally, I asked in my office yesterday whether anyone had a relative involved in the Iolaire. One of my staff, Cathy Macinnes, said that her uncle Malcolm MacLeod—Calum Mhurachaidh Phadraig Choinnich—was 18 when he was lost. Thinking back, I knew Cathy’s father quite well. He was active in the Scottish National party when I was not and was working for the BBC. It is notable that because of Malcolm’s young age, his family, like those of every other young servicemen who died, did not receive any war gratuity or compensation from the Ministry of Defence at the time. Times were hard and people were lost, but sometimes things were compounded further.
We do remember them. We think of them, and we think of the long shadow they have cast over Lewis in particular and Harris. All of us who have come into contact with or lived in Lewis have known about the Iolaire and what it caused. We cannot do it justice here, but we can remember them and think well of their lives and of them.