2019 Preview: Scotland set for year of anniversaries and reflection

From revolutionary acts of courage which disrupted societal norms, to groundbreaking sporting achievements, literary milestones and tragedies which shook the country to its core; 2019 will be a year for Scotland to celebrate, commemorate and mourn.

From revolutionary acts of courage which disrupted societal norms, to groundbreaking sporting achievements, literary milestones and tragedies which shook the country to its core; 2019 will be a year for Scotland to celebrate, commemorate and mourn.

From revolutionary acts of courage which disrupted societal norms, to groundbreaking sporting achievements, literary milestones and tragedies which shook the country to its core; 2019 will be a year for Scotland to celebrate, commemorate and mourn.

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It was a solemn start to the new year in the Western Isles as the community came together to remember those who lost their lives in the worst peacetime shipping disaster since the Titanic.

In the early hours of New Year’s Day, 1919, HMY Iolaire, carrying around 300 weary soldiers returning from the First World War, struck rocks known as the Beasts of Holm within sight of Stornoway Harbour.

Described by the Stornoway Gazette as “the blackest day in the history of the island”, the Iolaire tragedy devastated communities on the islands of Lewis and Harris. All but 79 of the men drowned – at least 201 died – and reports from The Scotsman at the time stated the scale of the disaster was so vast, the area ran out of coffins to bury the dead.

A memorial service was held yesterday, while schoolchildren dropped flowers into the sea near the reef to remember those who lost their lives.

In the summer of 1869, a group of seven medical students shattered the glass ceiling for women pursuing higher education in the field when they became the first in the country to be accepted into university.

The trailblazing Sophia Jex-Blake was initially denied a place at the University of Edinburgh’s medical faculty after applying in March, but an advert placed in The Scotsman, attracted the attention of fellow prospective students Isabel Thorne and Edith Pechey, leading to a second application later in the year.

By the time that was lodged, the list had grown to include Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson and Emily Bovell, with the group eventually becoming known as the “Edinburgh Seven” – the first female undergraduate students in Britain.

Their campaign led to the introduction of the 1876 UK Medical Act, ensuring women were able to study medicine at universities across the country. The 150th anniversary of the campaign will be marked by a series of events held throughout the year.

More than a century later, Scotland hosted a historic referendum on a devolved assembly as proposed in the 1978 Scotland Act.

Proposed by James Callaghan’s Labour government, the act would have created a Scottish assembly with limited legislative powers if a vote on 1 March, 1979 passed.

An amendment to the Act stipulated that it would be repealed if less than 40 per cent of the total electorate voted in favour of devolution in the referendum. More than 2.3 million Scots voted, with the Yes side coming out on top by a margin of less than 3 per cent following a vociferously fought campaign.

However, with a turnout of 64 per cent, this represented only 33 per cent of the registered electorate, coming in under the threshold for the Act to pass.

It would be almost 20 years before the devolution issue was revisited, but following a successful vote in the 1997 referendum on the creation of a Scottish Parliament, voters returned to the polls on 6 May, 1999 to cast their ballot for the first elections in the devolved assembly.

Initially sitting in the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, the first Parliament was led by a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition with Donald Dewar as the inaugural first minister.

It took five years before the controversial permanent home for the Parliament was officially opened. Celebrating 15 years of being Scotland’s political centre in 2019, the Parliament building at Holyrood divided the nation in terms of value, timeframe and design.

By the time the building was formally opened by the Queen on 9 October, 2004, it was already three years late and cost a total of £414 million – a vast increase on the conservative £10m-£40m estimates initially put forward.

The unique architecture of the building – designed by Catalan Enric Miralles – also proved contentious, with many blaming constant design changes over security fears for the project overrunning.

In April 2009, 16 men lost their lives when the Bond Super Puma helicopter they were travelling on crashed in the North Sea 11 miles off the coast of Peterhead on the return journey from a BP oil platform in the Miller oilfield.

Two separate inquiries into the disaster later concluded that the accident could have been prevented, but for a failure to detect a “significant fault in the helicopter’s gearbox” before the flight. Tributes are expected to be paid on the tenth anniversary of the disaster on 1 April.

The tragedy was made even more polarising as it came 15 years after an RAF Chinook helicopter crashed on the Mull of Kintyre, killing all 29 people on board.

Flying in thick, foggy conditions on 2 June, 1994, the helicopter – transporting almost all the United Kingdom’s senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts to Inverness – struck a hillside on the Peninsula shortly after 6pm, also killing all four crew present on the aircraft.

May will mark 200 years since two classic Walter Scott novels – A Legend of Montrose and The Bride of Lammermoor – were first published. Forming part of the Waverley novels series, the stories of love triangles and tragic affairs were captivating for their time, despite ­initially being published anonymously.

This year also marks a literary first, celebrating 15 years since Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street was serialised in The Scotsman.

On 6 June, 1944, Scottish soldiers played a vital part in one of the most famous military offensives of the Second World War.

More than 300,000 Allied troops – including dozens of Scots regiments – fought their way onto the beaches in France on D-Day.

D-Day marked the beginning of the end of the war in Europe and supported by aircraft and French resistance fighters the Allied forces were able to link up and establish a firm foothold in France.

The 75th anniversary of one of the most ambitious and dangerous wartime operations ever undertaken could be marked by the site of the landings in Normandy becoming a Unesco World Heritage site, with a decision due in July.

14 October also marks the 80th anniversary of the HMS Royal Oak being sunk at Scapa Flow off the coast of Orkney by the German submarine U-47.

The navy base, once thought to be impregnable to submarine attack, became the first in British waters to suffer a severe loss of life during the conflict. More than 800 officers died during the attack, or later passed away from their wounds. It is now designated as an official war grave and Royal Navy divers place a White Ensign underwater at her stern in an annual ceremony.

Despite this year marking 200 years since the death of James Watt, the lack of Scottish commemoration on the anniversary was criticised last year. Often regarded as one of the fathers of the industrial revolution thanks to his development of the Watt steam engine, the Greenock-born inventor is to be remembered at a series of events in Birmingham, where he spent most of his life, thanks to a number of exhibitions at the city’s museums.

There is hope some events may take place at Glasgow Science Centre and universities around Scotland including Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh.

In November, a significant moment in maritime history will be marked as the Cutty Sark celebrates its 150th birthday. The ship – one of the last tea clippers to be built – has been moored in a permanent dock in Greenwich since the 1950s, but was originally built on the River Clyde in 1869. An event will be held in February to celebrate the anniversary, inviting guests to dine under its copper hull.

On 19 November, 1994, more than 25 million people, clutching almost 49 million tickets tuned in to find out if their lucky numbers were up in the first ever National Lottery draw.

The hour-long special – hosted by Noel Edmonds – saw the 30, three, five, 44, 14, 22 and the bonus ten drawn out of the tumbler, but unfortunately failed to produce a millionaire on its first night.

Instead, five players shared a jackpot of £5,874,778, pocketing around £840,000 each, while another million people correctly matched three numbers, earning themselves a tenner.

Marking the 25th anniversary of the draw, operators Camelot are to introduce a new “annuity” payment format, allowing lucky players to have their winnings paid out over a 25-year period.