Reference Number248
TitleCall na h-Iolaire
AuthorDòmhnallach, Tormod Calum
Date Of Edition1978
Date Of Languagelate 20c
Date Of Language Ed1950-1999
DateMacroLate 20th c.
Date Of Language Notes
Place PublishedStornoway
LocationNational, academic, and local libraries
Geographical OriginsLewis
Geographical Origins EdLewis
Geographical Origins Notes
RegisterLiterature, Prose (History)
Register EdLiterature, Prose
RatingB (TBC)
A historical study of the tragic loss of HMY Iolaire.
A good example of the Gaelic dialect of Lewis.
The only substantial Gaelic account of the tragic loss of HMY Iolaire.
Alternative Author NameNorman Malcolm MacDonald
Manuscript Or EditionEd.
Size And Condition18.2cm x 12.3cm
Short TitleCall na h-Iolaire
Reference DetailsNLS: QP1.205.6503L
Number Of Pagesix, 124
Gaelic Text ByN/A
Social ContextThe text describes the events leading up to, during and after the tragic loss of HMY Iolaire on New Year’s Day 1919 when over two-hundred men, mostly naval reserves, were drowned, including 174 sailors from the Isle of Lewis, all of whom had surived the First World War and were only yards from home and safety. The Iolaire inexplicably veered off course and hit the rocks known as the Beasts of Holm.
Norman Malcolm MacDonald (Tormod Calum Dòmhnallach) (1927-2000) was born on 24 July 1927 in Thunder Bay, on the shores of Lake Superior, Canada, the eldest child of four other brothers and a sister to Finlay Macdonald, civil servant, from Aignish (Fionnlagh Chaluim Mhurchaidh Phortair, 1897-1959), and his wife Mary Ann MacLeod, from Tong (Màiri Anna Thormoid Chaluim Dhòmhnaill Glais, 1900-1994). His parents emigrated to Canada in 1920 and 1923 and were married in 1925 but due to the Great Depression had to return home to Lewis in 1930 when he was only three years of age. He was brought up on his grandfather’s croft in Tong and attended the local Tong School and thereafter the Nicolson Institute.
He left Lewis and spent some time in New Zealand and worked as a labourer, clerk and journalist. Having later taken up study as a mature student at Newbattle Abbey College, he became an administrator and writer for Fir Chlis, a touring Gaelic theatre company. Following in the footstep of Sorley Maclean, he spent a four year spell as Writer in Residence at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Isle of Skye, and he subsequently took on the role as Dramatist in Residence with the National Gaelic Arts Project and An Comunn Gaidhealach. He married Màiri MacDonald in 1983.
Throughout his writing career he produced many works, both drama and fiction, including the novels Calum Tod (1976) and An Sgàineadh (1993), and posthumously Portrona (2000), the 26 poems in Fàd (1978), and three illustrated non-fiction accounts: Creach Mhór nam Fiadh (1973) (see Text 37), on the Park Deer Raid of 1887, Call na h-Iolaire (1978), on the tragic loss of the Iolaire and Clann-Nighean an Sgadain (1987), on the herring-girls. He also wrote many plays in Gaelic and in English. Tormod Calum Dòmhnallach passed away in 2000.
ContentsNo table of contents appear and thus the text begins with an acknowledgment, then a dedication, followed by a quote which is then followed by the bulk of the text which is divided into six chapters as follows: 1. ‘Aig a’ Chaol’ (pp. 9-12), 2. ‘Mar a Tachair Dhuinn’ (pp. 15-31), 3. ‘Cùirt Rannsachaidh na Néibhi’ (pp. 33-50), 4. ‘Cùirt Rannsachaidh Fhollaiseach’ (pp. 53-65), 5. ‘An Déidh a’ Chall’ (pp. 67-82) and 6. ‘Sùil Air Ais’ (pp. 85-94). This is followed by an English synopsis (pp. 97-113), a Navigational Appendix (pp. 115-21), Maps (pp. 122-23) and finally sources for the illustrations and photographic materials that complement the text (p. 124).
LanguageThe language is fairly simple and direct and offers a free-flowing narrative of events which is supplemented by eye-witness accounts from survivors of the tragedy which are given in direct speech.
Reflecting the dialect in which the text was written there are a number of final losses of the schwa, e.g., furasd (p. 9), ac (p. 9) but also aca (p. 11), innt (p. 16), gasd (p. 16), àit (p. 16).
A number of older spellings appear throughout the text, e.g., dhachaidh (p. 9), an uairsin (p. 17), thu féin (p. 24), stigh (p. 26), air choireigin (p. 30), Di-ciadain (p. 33), air dòigh air bith (p. 43), d fhuaradh (p. 46), dhaibh péin (p. 62), aobhar (p. 62).
Prepositions are realised as follows: ghan (p. 9) rather than the usual dhan but also dha’n (p. 10), gham (p. 19) instead of dham and gha mo (p.19) rather than dha mo.
Consistent lack of hyphen in following words: A mach (p. 10), a rithist (p. 12), a nuas (p. 15), a rithist (p. 20), a riamh (p. 21), a ris (p. 27).
Occasionally the passive voice appears, e.g., chunnacas (p. 15), slaodte (p. 29), bhathar (p. 34), bithear (p. 43), faodar (p. 43), chan fhacas (p. 55), feumar (p. 58).
The author’s Lewis dialect may be represented in the use of such forms as: shabaisd (p. 9), latharna-mhàireach (p. 12), feagal (p. 15), bùrn (p. 15), ’s mathaid (p. 16), a réisd (p. 17), cionnas (p. 17), nominative masculine rather than feminine am muir (p. 19), ciod (p. 22), thurchair (p. 24), cuimhneam (p. 26), fèir (p. 26), gleoc (p. 36), dàrna h-uair (p. 60), amhrain (p. 75).
The copula is realised as follows: ’sann (p. 15), ’se (p. 16), gur e (p. 16), b’e (p. 21).
There are many examples of words that have been Gaelicised: trèinichean (p. 9), teileagram (p. 9), pasainsear (p. 11), deic (p. 12), Bhoill (p. 15), cùrs (p. 15), bearaigeadh (p. 15), teans (p. 17), rocaid (p. 17), lowerigeadh (p. 19), rubair (p. 19), heavaigeadh (p. 19), stìl (p. 19), easaigeadh (p. 20), clìoraigeadh (p. 20), strugglaigeadh (p. 20), blocaichean (p. 21), meiteichean (p. 21), peantair (p. 21), loighne (p. 25), sleac (p. 25), crochaid (p. 26), oillisgin (p. 27), bhurstaig (p. 27), drioftadh (p. 27), rèilichean (p. 27), a dh’explodaig (p. 29), tuga (p. 31), tràileir (p. 31), bhacaig (p. 31), einnsean (p. 33), chuartermaster (p. 34), drioftair (p. 35), criutha (p. 35), Researbh (p. 42), fónaichean (p. 47), sòbarr (p. 54), poidhleat (p. 56), a’ bhoidse (p. 60), diùtaidh (p. 61), baidhseagailean (p. 73), bancaichean (p. 91).
There are many examples of English words some of which are technical, and which are usually italicised, and also present are a few examples of the influence of English idiom, e.g., hut (p. 11), Red Cross (p.11), phlatform (p. 11), saloons (p. 16), first (p. 16), second class (p. 16), buoyancy (p. 16), lifebelt (p. 19), alley-way (p. 19), riggings (p. 19), swing (p. 19), davit (p. 20), phropeller (p. 21), excitement (p. 21), after fall (p. 21), forwards fall (p. 21), lifeboats (p. 21), exhausted (p. 21), panic (p. 22), revolver (p. 24), llama coat (p. 24), orling spar (p. 25), stationary (p. 25), crowd (p. 26), hang-on (p. 26), wreckage (p. 27), life apparatus (p. 30), Court-Martial (p. 34), dynamo (p. 37), whaler (p. 41), wireless (p. 42), engine-room (p. 42), beacon (p. 59), tarpaulins (p. 68), tatoos (p. 72), average (p. 74), volunteers (p. 74), surveyors (p. 76), Board of Trade (p. 72), phort bow (p. 91), starboard bow (p. 91). A couple of examples of English idiom may be given as follows: Feumaidh gu robh iad air an nerve a chall (p. 26) and “Tha esan finished cuideachd” (p. 27).
Preference is given to a’ cheud rather than a’ chiad throughout the text.
Preference is given to the ia dipthong rather than the eu dipthong e.g., sgial (p. 13) bial (p. 27), bialaibh (p. 37).
Occasional lapse of grave accent, e.g., dhiom (p. 21).
Very occasionally intrusive apostrophes appear, e.g., ’s air (p. 24), fathast (p. 170), phill (p. 182), a’ pilleadh (p. 184), air t’ais (p. 200), fagus (p. 280.
The schwa vowel is usually represented as u rather than a, e.g., fianuis (p. 9), solus (p. 15), nàdarruch (p. 22).
Occasionally there are examples of idiomatic phrases, e.g., chanadh tu dìreach gu robh ar mionach a’ dol mu ar claigeann (p. 17), “Gheibh thu fàth air a’ mhuir mhór” and truimeach-air-shearrach (p. 30).
There are very occasional inconsistencies in spelling, e.g., fàbharrach (p. 20) and fàbharach (p. 22), mar gum biodh (p. 53) and mar gum bitheadh (p. 54).
Typographical errors are few and do not affect comprehension of the text, e.g., b’ urrain (p. 11), cònhla (p. 30), and Fhair (p. 46).
A few rare words make an appearance, e.g., neogag (p. 50), smugrach (50).

The language may represent the Gaelic dialect of the Isle of Lewis.
OrthographyThe spelling conforms generally to the orthography of the late twentieth-century. Acute and grave accents are retained. No accents appear on capital letters.
EditionFirst edition.
Other Sources
Further ReadingBlack, Ronald I. M. (ed.), An Tuil: Anthology of 20th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse (Edinburgh, 2002: Birlinn), 512-15, 792-93.
Dòmhnallach, Tormod Calum, Calum Tod (Inverness, 1976: Club Leabhar).
Dòmhnallach, Tormod Calum, Fàd: Poems and Songs in English and Gaelic (Stornoway, 1978: Buideann-foillseachaidh nan Eilean an Iar).
Dòmhnallach, Tormod Calum, Creach Mhór nam Fiadh (Stornoway, 1973: Stornoway Gazette Ltd.).
Dòmhnallach, Tormod Calum, Clann Nigheanan Sgadain (Steòrnabhagh, 1987: Acair).
Dòmhnallach, Tormod Calum, An Sgàineadh (Steòrnabhagh, 1993: Acair).
Dòmhnallach, Tormod Calum, Portrona (Edinburgh, 2000: Birlinn).
Gifford, Douglas, ‘A Retrospect Calum Tod and The Villager’, Lines Review, vol. 62 (1977), 24-30.
Grant, James Shaw (ed.), Sea Sorrow: The Story of the Iolaire Disaster (Stornoway, 1972: Stornoway Gazette, 2nd ed.).
MacLeod, John, When I Heard the Bell: The Loss of the Iolaire (Edinburgh, 2009: Birlinn).
MacLeod, Michelle, ‘The Gaelic Plays of Tormod Calum Dòmhnallach’, Scottish Gaelic Studies [=Caindel Alban: Fèill-Sgrìobhainn do Dhòmhnall E. Meek], vol. XXIV (2008), 405-18.
Thomson, Frank, ‘A Gael in the Modern World: Norman Malcolm MacDonald’, Books in Scotland (1978), 27-28.
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