New research to narrate story and impact of Iolaire tragedy

16th December 2021

A new research project, ‘The Iolaire Impact’ is underway to explore how the story of the Iolaire tragedy is told and preserved for future generations at a new Iolaire centre in Stornoway.

The impacts of the tragedy on 1 January 1919 continue to unravel across the communities on the Isles of Lewis and Harris, and beyond. The Iolaire Centre Charity recognises that understanding these impacts and telling the story are foundation stones on which healing, cultural identity and confidence can be built.

The research is being led by the University of the Highlands and Islands and includes oral testimony and archival research from both local sources and internationally from the Scottish diaspora. The project has received funding through the Scottish Government’s innovation voucher scheme, administered by Interface, the businesses-academic matching service.

Lead academic Dr Iain Robertson, Reader in History at the university’s Centre for History said; “The outcome of the project will not only ensure that an Iolaire Centre accurately tells the story, but also shares how the event shaped the Islands socially, economically, and culturally in the generations since.”

University of the Highlands and Islands Visiting Professor and Senior Researcher on the project Professor Marjory Harper, said; “As an historian of emigration and the Scottish diaspora, I am particularly interested in how the tragedy of the Iolaire contributed to a significant increase in emigration from Lewis in the 1920s, and to the long-term legacy.”

Director and Trustee of the Iolaire Centre Charity and author of The Darkest Dawn, Malcolm Macdonald said; “It is still evident that there are many family stories which require further research before memories fade even further. Records from the time need to be extensively scrutinised.

“The centenary commemorations of 2019 testify that the feelings of the community are still mourning the enormous loss and what it meant to such a small community over the years. The impact of the disaster still casts a shadow on these islands.  It is most important that everything pertaining to the Iolaire is recorded for posterity as it is a vitally important part of the islands’ history.”

Lorraine Thomson, Interface’s Highlands and Islands Manager, said “Interface, Scotland’s knowledge exchange broker for businesses and organisation, is delighted to have helped the Iolaire Centre at the outset to source academic expertise from the University of the Highlands and Islands. The work will be an important contribution to developing a world class visitor experience to commemorate the tragedy and its impact on the Islands.”

The Iolaire Centre is sponsored by Highlands and Islands Marine Equipment firm Gael Force Group and supported by HIE and Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar.  Further information on how people can get involved and to stay up to date on progress of this exciting development can be found online: