Iolaire memories

The centenary of the Iolaire disaster should not pass without comment, although it is a sad way to begin 2019. It was even sadder for those affected in the Outer Hebrides in 1919 awaiting their loved ones’ return from the horrors of the First World War. It is appropriate that the centenary is properly commemorated and it is touching that the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, Lord of the Isles, will attend the event.

The story is too well-known and documented for me to detail one of the worst and tragic maritime disasters in United Kingdom waters during the 20th century. Over 200 men perished within sight of the tranquillity of their homes, some in front of their waiting loved ones, after surviving gruelling years of fighting for their country. This blogpost will publish at 2:30 a.m. the moment one hundred years ago when the Iolaire struck the rocks just before reaching the safety of Stornoway harbour.

My own namesake and grandfather Donald MacLeod was thought to be one of the victims, so his grieving ‘widow’ was shocked when he walked into the home a few days later, having given up his place on the overcrowded Iolaire to someone else who was desperate to get home.

However, my first acquaintance with the name Iolaire was in 1980 when I spent time in a boarding house of that name Tigh Iolaire still extant in Bonar Bridge while supplying a congregation in that Highland village.

I have some memorable events from that stay. The most notable one was a restless night in Tigh Iolaire trying to find a text for my next sermon. My mind had been on ‘Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun’ Ecc 11:7, but it seemed a strange text to take. In the darkness of the night my mind developed the subject until eventually, I decided I would preach on it and I did so at the following Prayer meeting on 21/8/1980.

Donald Campbell was an elder in the congregation who had not been out at church for many months, but he ventured out to that Prayer meeting. He told me when I visited him shortly afterwards that this was the very text that had been before his mind and which had encouraged him to venture out to the church and, behold, it was the text of the sermon!

The message and utility of this text developed over the years and expanded to the extent that I preached a series of four Prayer meeting addresses on it in Inverness in 1998.

There were other experiences from that 1980 summer such as the temptation that I was mistaken in applying for the work of the ministry, followed by the text coming powerfully to my mind: ‘The hireling flees, because he is an hireling, and cares not for the sheep’  John 10:13. I knew that I cared for the sheep and I could not flee from the work.

I also made the acquaintance of the godly Rev. Alexander Macaskill, Lochinver, who assisted at the communion season while I was there. We got on well in each other’s company and I recall our walking up to the front door of Hannah Matheson’s house for lunch one day and his saying: “The Lord’s people are not in any hurry to be perfectly sanctified.” He confided some thoughts to me about the ecclesiastical situation at that time. I think it was this occasion when he preached one of his favourite communion Monday sermons on ‘And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested’ 1Ch 4:10.

This divine blessing would be a good start to the 2019 New Year.

A Happy New Year to all my readers.

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