It was Moondark, just before a Capricorn New Moon on New Year’s morning 1919. HMY Iolaire, an overcrowded naval yacht, under-equipped with lifesaving equipment, had set sail from the Scottish West Highland seaport of Kyle of Lochalsh on the 31st December 1918, carrying 283 war-weary sailors.
“…The Isle of Lewis had a hard war. Some 6,200 men joined up and nearly 1,000 had died. Every family on the island had lost fathers, sons, brothers or uncles. So, the night of 31 December 1918 was tense with expectation. The war was finally over, the world was at peace and after four long years the men who had served king and country were on their way home…’ (i)
1.55am, 1st January 1919:
As they approached the town of Stornoway on Lewis – where their families were waiting on the pier –the Iolaire struck the rocks known as the Beasts of Holm. Stormy weather made it almost impossible to reach the shore only 50 yards away. 201 of those on board died: literally within sight of home. There were 82 survivors. Around one third of the bodies of those who perished were never recovered.
‘…As New Year’s Day broke across the islands, families waiting for the arrival of their loved ones heard rumours of a terrible disaster. Men walked miles from villages to Stornoway searching for news. What they found was devastating. The Scotsman of 6 January (1919) reported the tragedy, soberly noting: “The villages of Lewis are like places of the dead. The homes of the island are full of lamentation – grief that cannot be comforted. Scarcely a family has escaped the loss of a near blood relative. Many have had sorrow heaped upon sorrow…’ (i)
Apart from the loss of the Titanic in 2012, this disaster represents the second greatest loss of life at sea in the UK during peacetime.
So devastating was the impact of this tragedy that once the dead had been buried, a great silence of profound grief descended on Lewis. It was too hard to talk about. It took forty years for the public silence to be broken:
‘…In 1959 Donald Macphail, speaking on Gaelic radio, recalled the moment his friend found the body of his son. ‘The man’s son was there, and I remember he was so handsome that I could have said he was not dead at all. His father went on his knees beside him and began to take letters from his son’s pockets. And the tears were splashing on the body of his son. And I think it is the most heart-rending sight I have ever seen.’…’ (i)
Having grown up on the island of Lewis, I was aware of this terrible tragedy from a very young age. The most telling detail I can recall, from my mother’s accounts of what she had heard from her parents’ generation, was this: the local undertaker at the time was my late grandfather’s best friend. Following the harrowing circumstances with which he had to deal in January 1919, he had a nervous breakdown…
I had known for some time that there would be many moving ways in which those terrible events of New Year’s Day 1919 would be commemorated at the centenary. If any form of redemption was possible, then the generations arising – and especially those relatives whose lives had been marked directly or indirectly down the subsequent years – would enable it through their public events, their poetry, their music, their art.
I became very conscious of the momentum towards commemoration building during a recent visit to Lewis in September 2018, and was moved by what I saw.
The Iolaire Disaster’s Horoscope
However, I was unprepared by how deeply folk memory would affect me personally as 2018 drew to a close. By New Year’s Eve, I was feeling very emotional, almost tearful, despite our family’s Festive Season having been relaxing and peaceful. My spirits were invaded by a darkness and melancholy that I simply could not shake off.
With five Twelfth House planets, I have always been mediumistic, although it has taken me a very long time to face and make peace with this facet of my makeup. I recognised that what I was feeling was only partly personal…
Then, on reading through some material on the Iolaire Disaster on the Web on New Year’s Day, I came across the precise time at which the Iolaire had struck the rocks. 1.55am. I put up the chart: stunning details struck me immediately.
The Midheaven ( MC) of this event – its direction – is in the sign of Cancer, described in my previous post as ‘…centring on the relationship with home and family, the pursuit of emotional security and a sense of belonging…’ With poignant aptness, Vesta, the asteroid of home and hearth, is exactly conjunct the Cancer MC. However, both MC and Vesta are in the very last minutes of Cancer. It is nearly the end of the matter. The IC ( point of home, roots, origins) is in the opposite sign of Capricorn, a facet of which is.‘..facing the pain of inevitable times of separation and loss…’
These men perished within sight of home. As the chart so tellingly points out, they never quite got there. As the minutes ticked by on that devastating night, Neptune, god of the sea, reached the MC of this horoscope, gradually claiming most of the lives of those on board by drowning. The next planet to come to the MC was Saturn, ruler of the IC. Grim Reaper Saturn’s message at its bleakest.
(There are other significant pointers to what happened appearing in this horoscope’s symbolism. I have presented only those which struck me most forcefully.)
Links with the 2019 commemorations
In view of the Nodal axis’ having shifted into Cancer/Capricorn in November 2018, it’s most apt that the commemorations have been taking place with the transiting Nodes crossing the MC/IC axis of the Iolaire Disaster’s horoscope.
Two weeks before the tragedy occurred on 1st January 1919, there was a 9th house lunar eclipse at 25 Gemini, opposite the horoscope’s 3rd house Moon at 25 Sagittarius, emphasising the theme of travelling both far and near, . The Ascendant of the Iolaire Disaster’s horoscope, progressed to New Year’s Day 2019, is exactly conjunct the Disaster chart’s natal Moon ( MC ruler) and opposite that fateful eclipse degree.
The 2019 commemorations took place just before the eclipsed New Moon in Capricorn, approaching Moondark, with transiting Saturn conjunct the Sun of the Disaster’s horoscope, emphasising the solemnity and also the respectful nature of those events.
Chiron in the Iolaire Disaster’s chart is at 29 Pisces, closely conjunct Eris, Goddess of Strife at 27 Pisces. The commemorations are occuring exactly two 50-year Chiron Returns from the tragedy, Chiron currently being at 28 Pisces. Perhaps that indicates the healing which will hopefully arise in time from the creativity, dignity and eloquence with which the people of the Western Isles, and Lewis especially, have marked the most devastating tragedy ever to strike their shores. One can but hope so….
i) Read more at:
1200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2019