Global appeal underway to save Scottish island cemetery from 'falling into the sea'

An island cemetery is at risk from ‘falling into the sea’ with a race now on to protect the graves from the forces of the Atlantic.

Bragar Cemetery on the north west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides is under threat from coastal erosion with a global appeal now under way to help shield the graveyard from the impact of winter storms.

The cemetery is home to the remains of a 15th Century chapel and several War Graves of the victims of the devastating 1919 Iolaire tragedy, when more than 200 servicemen died after their vessel struck rocks near Stornoway as they returned home from the First World War.

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Ivan Brown, development manager at the Barvas Estate, which owns the cemetery land, said conditions at the site had significantly deteriorated in recent months.

He said there was a risk that “coffins and bones” could wash into the sea if the land was not properly protected.

Mr Brown said: “The condition of the cliffs here over the past couple of years have got a lot worse given the storms. We had engineers here last November but after the storms of last winter, part of the land by the cemetery started to collapse.

"The erosion is working its way up. There are three layers. If the second layer goes, so will the top layer and the cemetery wall will come in.

"There are graves next to the cemetery wall. We could end up with coffins and bones washing into the sea, which of course we really don’t want to happen.”

The Bragar Cemetery on Lewis which is being threatened by coastal erosion. PIC: Barvas Estate Trust.The Bragar Cemetery on Lewis which is being threatened by coastal erosion. PIC: Barvas Estate Trust.
The Bragar Cemetery on Lewis which is being threatened by coastal erosion. PIC: Barvas Estate Trust.

The estate has helped to raise a large portion of the £200,000 required to reinforce the land with rock armour, with the Bragar community now fundraising to secure the last £45,000.

Donations have come in from both home and abroad with supporters from Australia, New Zealand and Denmark, some who have relatives buried at Bragar, among those who have contributed to the fund.

Effie Macdonald, of the Bragar Cemetery Committee, said: “Given the coastal erosion, the cemetery is liable to fall into the sea. Right along the coast you can see erosion. Ever since last year, there has been a big erosion right into the cemetery wall. It is a very important site and you can see the sea is eating into it.”

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A planning application has been lodged by the estate with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to place rock armour around the cemetery site to slow down the impact of the water on the coastline.

Donald Armstrong, of Wallace Stone civil engineers in Stornoway, said: “The cemetery is fine but if you don’t deal with erosion at the shoreline it will continue. The site warrants protection work and the rock armour will absorb some of the energy of the waves.”

The cemetery contains the remains the 15th Century Teampall Eoin, also known as St John’s Chapel and Cill Sgàire, which reflects the Norse heritage of the island.

Archaeologists from Glasgow University recorded over 2,000 unmarked grave stones in the old cemetery around the Teampall in 2008.

Remains of remains of an old village next to the graveyard and a kitchen midden above the shoreline are also mentioned in accounts.

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