Hero of Iolaire disaster to be honoured in new stage show

A hero of the Iolaire disaster which claimed the lives of more than 200 servicemen returning to the Isle of Lewis is to inspire a new musical production marking its centenary.

The sinking of the Iolaire near Stornoway's harbour in 1919 was one of Britain's worst maritime disasters.

John Finlay MacLeod saved dozens of lives after managing to swim ashore with a rope from the stricken vessel, which sank in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 1919.

Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and fiddler Duncan Chisholm are to join forces to create a suite of music inspired by the heroics of MacLeod, whose efforts are thought to have helped more than half of those who survived.

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The project - An Treas Suaile / The Third Wave - is one of two honouring the 100th anniversary of the Iolaire disaster being premiered at the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway as part of a UK-wide programme of events marking the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Fowlis and Chisholm will be combine newly-composed music, traditional material and archive recordings with on-stage visuals and projection mapping in the show, which will be premiered in November just yards from where tragedy struck in the early hours of New Year's Day in 2019.

The show, one of two jointly commissioned by An Lanntair and the 14-18 Now programme, will feature excerpts of letters describing the war written by Lewis and Harris servicemen, as well as accounts from survivors and family members who lost loved ones.

Writing on her Facebook page, Fowlis said: "I'm incredibly honoured to finally announce this joint musical project with my great friend and musical comrade.

"We have been commissioned to commemorate the 100 years since the sinking of HMY Iolaire and the loss of the men onboard, on the morning of January 1st 1919.

"One of the worst maritime disasters in modern British history, it was a tragedy for the islands and many areas of Lewis and Harris never fully recovered."

The other An Lanntair production, which will be staged there in October, will see Lewis-born singer-songwriter Iain Morrison, whose great-grandfather was among the 205 Iolaire victims, work with visual artists Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion to create Sàl (Saltwater), which will draw on the roots of Highland bagpipe music. Seaman John Morrison, who was 44 when he perished in the disaster, left behind a family of eight children.

Roddy Murray, head of visual arts and literature at An Lanntair, said: "The Iolaire disaster stretches our vocabulary to its limits and can only be articulated further through art."