Visualising the lolaire
This is a project for the commemoration and memorialisation of the sinking of HMY Iolaire in 1919. The project is a collaboration between Dr Iain Donald (School of Arts, Media and Computer Games, Abertay University) and Dr Iain Robertson (The Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands) in partnership with the Kinloch Historical Society, Sandwick Community Council and Museum nan Eilean (Heritage Service of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar)
HMY Iolaire was carrying islanders who had fought in the First World War back to the Western Isles, predominantly the Isle of Lewis. The Iolaire foundered on rocks "The Beasts of Holm", on New Year’s Day 1919, a few yards offshore and a mile away from the safety of Stornoway Harbour. The final death toll was officially put at 205, of whom 181 were islanders. It is estimated that over 70% of those on the boat perished. This was particularly poignant for both the date and the fact that the ship was bringing home islanders who had served throughout World War One. The tragedy devastated island communities on both Lewis and Harris. Extensive landscapes of memorialisation exist and this project aims to map the impact on the islands in a systematic way and link monuments to the family narratives, individual and collective memories.
There is much community effort on the island to mark the centenary of the sinking at both island-wide and individual township level. There will also be the last national centennial commemoration event led by the Royal Navy. Our collaboration encompasses groups at all levels of this activity with the objective of drawing together the communal strengths of memory work and commemorative practice in order to investigate the legacy of collective trauma at the level of the croft and family, township and community through the lens of family memories of those who were lost. Our shared aims are to co-produce outputs that enhance the commemorative effort, ensure that the legacy of the tragedy is carried forward through the twenty-first century and to respond creatively and imaginatively to the familial memory of loss. In so doing we are collaborating with the tradition of citizen historianship that exists, in the form of oral histories, in the Gàidhealtachd of the western isles.
The project will do this by creating an interactive visualisation of the HMY Iolaire tragedy. By digitally mapping the locations in the wider community of those that lost their lives and how these are currently memorialised (via monuments, churches, schools etc.) the visualisation will participate with community groups to co-produce outputs that enhance the commemorative effort, ensure that the legacy of the tragedy is carried forward through the twenty-first century and to respond creatively and imaginatively to the familial memory of loss. Our approach is inspired by some of the most recent think in landscape studies (Wylie, 2009) which sees memorialisation as much in terms of absence as it does presence and which explores motifs of absence, distance (time) and loss. The contexts through which we seek to explore this particular landscape of memorialisation are that of the familial stories of hearing the news of the disaster, any new material culture these uncover and the roll of honour for the lost. In collaboration with the partners and drawing in individual and collective memory, this project will deep-map these to existing monuments, crofts and townships to create an interactive artefact and new legacy of the impact of WW1 in the Outer Hebrides.
The overall aim of this projectis to produce a virtual mapping of the disaster via the creation of an online application that works on multiple levels. To achieve this, we aim to:
- Map the impact of loss of life in new and academically-innovative ways.
- Precisely identify the communities directly and indirectly affected by loss
- Map these to the level of township and individual croft.
- Trace the connectivity of loss through kin and friendship networks.