Monday 5th February is the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the SS Tuscania by UB-77 in the North Channel between Islay and Rathlin Island. WW100 Islay is organising two commemorative services to give us all an opportunity to remember those that lost their lives and the remarkable dedication and resourcefulness of the Islay men and women who as a community pulled together when this tragedy brought the war directly to Islay’s shores.
The first service will be held at the American Monument (weather permitting). Commissioned by the American Red Cross and designed by Scottish Architect Robert Walker, an American Red Cross publication in 1920 described the Monument thus:
“Islay folk were accustomed to mark their important graves or sites with cairns or towers built of rough hewn native stone. In view of this, the American Red Cross adopted the design of a watch tower sixty feet in height and twenty feet in diameter at the base, to be constructed of stone gathered in the neighbouring fields or from cliffs”.
On clear days there are spectacular views of the waters in which the ship went down and towards the west nearly where, three thousand miles beyond the horizon, America the homeland of those the Monument honours, and who we, 100 years on, will commemorate.
This will be followed by a service at Kilnaughton Military Cemetery managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Private Roy Muncaster, the only American soldier still buried on Islay, lies here alongside five members of the Tuscania crew.
To recognise the part played in the rescue of men from the Tuscania the Stars and Stripes, beautifully sewn by the Islay Quilters in remembrance of the flag sewn 100 years ago, and the Union Jack will be carried by serving members of the Islay Coastguard and RNLI. Wreaths will be laid in memory of the American soldiers and of the ship’s British crew, and in memory of the families in America and on Islay who lost loved ones in the Great War. There will also be wreaths laid by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Coastguards and the RNLI.
Isobel Ferguson will play a lament and Scott McDermott will end the minutes silence with Reveille. Port Ellen Primary Gaelic Choir will start the Kilnaughton service with An Eala Bhan. There will also be a reading in Gaelic by Lewis Davy and a poem by American poet Ryan Van Winkle.
The services will be conducted by the island’s two ministers, Valerie Watson and Jim McNulty.
09.45 For car sharing meet at Kilnaughton New Cemetery car park
10.15 Meet at the American Monument/RSPB car park on the Oa
11.00 Service at the American Monument
12.30 Service at Kilnaughton Military Cemetery
Oatcakes, cheese and a dram will be served following the service at the American Monument. A formal purvey, to which all attendees are invited, will be provided at No 1 Charlotte Street after the service a Kilnaughton Military Cemetery.
If the wind is above 30mph the formal service at the Monument will be cancelled for safety reasons. If this service is cancelled the service at Kilnaughton will still go ahead.
The walk to the American Monument is 0.7 of a mile over fairly rough and boggy terrain and the site is very exposed, so please wear suitable clothes and footwear.
For Kilnaughton Military Cemetery park at the New Kilnaughton Cemetery car park and walk down the road towards the lighthouse. Then follow the path along the front of the Old Kilnaughton Cemetery and over the sand dunes and down to the site.