View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


Old boat winch

Teampull an Eoin / Temple of the Winds

Dun / fortification

97 years ago

The SS Titanic went down in early hours of 15 April 1912 with the loss of 1517 lives, although 706 survived. Only one of that number is left alive today - a lady now aged 97, then aged only 9 weeks. In remembering those who drowned in Titanic, I would like to point to other maritime disasters in peacetime which claimed large numbers of lives as well.

SS Norge was holed on Rockall in June 1904 and sank in minutes, taking 635 emigrants to the bottom with her. Lifeboats did manage to take 160 to safety, but there were nowhere near enough lifeboats on the Norge to take all. Nine casualties made it ashore at Stornoway, but did not survive. They lie buried at Sandwick Cemetery, 20 minutes' walk from the town. The lessons that should have been learned from her sinking (which was to provide sufficient lifeboats and rafts for all on board) could have saved hundreds of lives on Titanic. But false economies meant that the recommendations, drawn up by the Danish maritime authorities in the wake of the tragedy, were never implemented.

HMY Iolaire went down on rocks just outside Stornoway Harbour on 1 January 1919. She was carrying 300 sailors from the Outer Hebrides home after four years of war. The two lifeboats were useless, as they were smashed against the rocks immediately after launch - and would never have been enough to carry all on board.

Visit to Bragar

I took advance of the nice weather to go to Bragar, 15 miles north of Stornoway, to photograph wargraves in the cemetery there. I found about 36 gravestones; I took more than 30 more pictures of the area. Including two of young lambs - the first of the season I've seen. All today's images can be seen here. When they have been uploaded (currently in progress), I'll post a selection on here.

Hillsborough disaster

Twenty years ago today, 96 people died at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. They were among thousands who had come to the stadium to watch a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The people who lost their lives were crushed against railings and fencings in the stadium. The Sports Secretary, Andy Burnham, was heckled as no blame has ever been attributed over the tragedy. At 3.06pm, people across Liverpool observed two minutes' silence, punctuated by church bells ringing out 96 times, for each of the victims. RIP.

Wednesday 15 April

Brilliantly sunny today and not a cloud in the sky. Not terribly warm though, only 11 degrees / 52F. The sea surrounding this island is not very warm at all, so no great surprises there.

Today, a memorial service will be held at Aberdeen's St Nicholas Kirk for the sixteen men who died two weeks ago off Peterhead. Their helicopter suffered a catastrophic gearbox failure, causing it to lose its rotorblades which in turned sheared off the rear of the aircraft. It crashed into the sea some 14 miles from land, from an altitude of 2,200 feet. One of the casualties was from Latvia; the others were British, with the majority from northeastern Scotland. The service will be relayed via Radio Scotland on 810 kHz mediumwave, BBC2 Scotland and on-line.

Tomorrow will see the 263rd anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, in which Prince Charles Edward's bid to take the British Crown was finally crushed. Culloden is a turning point in Scottish history, marking the demise of the clan system (which was already on the way out) and the start of a vigorous repression of Gaelic culture in the north and northwest of Scotland. A group of enthusiasts are reenacting the retreat, which you can follow on Twitter via @nightmarch.

Prince Charles Edward, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, is a revered figure in certain quarters of Scotland. I am not going to beat about the bush in my negative opinion of the Young Pretender. He was very ill advised to proceed with his adventure, which was executed with a good degree of military ineptitude. I will say that if he had had the guts to proceed beyond Derby (that's where he wimped out), he just might have made it to London. At which point, his supply lines would have been cut off. His flight round the highlands and islands, looking for any boat to whisk him back to Paris should be an object of shame. He came to Stornoway in June 1746, to Kildun Cottage - which stood within the line of sight of my position - to ask for help. He was asked to leave. The burghers of Stornoway would not betray him, but could not help him either. Kildun Cottage was pulled down in the early 1970s to make way for the current Fabrication Yard.