Artistic responses

The sinking of the Iolaire has been and continues to be the source for many poems, songs, paintings, books and other artistic work both in Gaelic and English. This section highlights just some of this artistic output and shows how the story has been interpreted through artistic works from 1919 to the present day.

Illustration of a kettle boiling.


Òran na h-Iolaire

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Gaelic song recorded in 1970 and sung by Flora McCuish who was born in 1898 and was a native of Berneray, Isle of Harris. This is a lament for those who died when the Iolaire sank. The bard thinks of the sorrow of those left to mourn. The song sung here is by Hector MacKinnon of Berneray and comes from a manuscript of his songs owned by his daughter Nellie MacKinnon.

‘S Bochd an Sgeul a Rinn Mise Leughadh

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Recorded in 1972 and sung by George Gow who was born in 1885 and was a native of Sutherland. This Gaelic song was composed by the singer’s father.

Òran na h-Iolaire

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Gaelic song recorded in 1977 and sung by Mary MacRae who was born in 1892 and was a native of Uig, Isle of Lewis.

These three songs represent just a small selection of the musical responses about the sinking of the Iolaire. You can find more at

Illustration of smoke rising in front of a distant island.


Mairi Iain Mhurch’ Chaluim

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Composed by , a native of the Isle of Lewis and first published in 'Fon t-slige Under the shell bhàrdachd le Anna Frater/Poems by Anna Frater'.
Glasgow,1995. Shelfmark HP2.95.7880.

My Grandmother, who lost her father on the “Iolaire”, New Year’s night, 1919

I sit listening to you
and my heart understands
more than my hearing;
and my eyes absorb
more than my ears.

Your soft voice, your speech
rising and falling like waves
on the cold surface of the sea,
and now and again breaking
on the sharp rock of memory;
and the brine rises up
in the grey seas of your eyes.

“He was on the rope
when it broke ...”

And your heart also broke
with the loss of the sturdy rope
which you had clung to lovingly
while you were growing up
as a child

And, at ten years of age,
you had only a memory of the rock
that used to keep you straight;
and every hope that was in your eyes
was drowned on that night,
and through each New Year that followed.

They buried the rock
and that left a hole.
The salt hardened your life
and kept the pain fresh;
and it stayed in your eyes
as stinging as it ever was;
and the old woman’s pain
is as keen as the girl’s,
and your heart breaks anew
remembering your father.

“... because I had a father ...”

Drama: a new generation

The cast of the Iolaire play

Through drama and song, P7 pupils from Taobh na Pàirce (Parkside Primary, Edinburgh's dedicated Gaelic primary school) performed a play about the Iolaire in June 2017 for the public at the National Library of Scotland. Written by William Hershaw and directed by Ann McCluskey of CnaG, the play was performed in Gaelic and an English synopsis was provided.