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Theatre of Drams Islay Whisky Symposium

In an earlier blog post I ran a poll and asked folk what they would think about the festival lasting two weeks. The majority, 69% of 515 votes, voted in favour of a two week festival in the near future. Right now all festivities are cramped into one week and for many folk on the island it's extremely busy. Having a two week festival could possibly bring a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere to the festival and more folk could join. It's great news therefore that someone is organising an extra whisky related event which lasts almost a week. This event, however, is not related to the Islay Festival at the end of May, but it takes place in October, and on a smaller scale.

Rachel MacNeill, owner of Whisky for Girls (and Guys!) is hosting ‘Theatre of Drams’ in October, from 23rd to 27th, and tickets are on sale from this month. Rachel’s festival will mainly be held in Bowmore Hall and she aims to offer variety to suit each person’s needs with the offer to “book on a tasting, a talk, a workshop, anything you fancy.” In previous years Rachel has run Whisky Course Islay which will be incorporated in Theatre of Drams although events can all be booked individually even for those not taking part in the course. Continue reading...

Islay Lighthouses History

Mavis Gulliver reflects on their history

Around the coast of Scotland, two hundred lighthouses send out their warning lights. Managed by the Northern Lighthouse Board, they are strategically located to warn of danger and to aid navigation through perilous waters. Once lit by braziers, candles or whale oil lamps, all lighthouses are now fully automated. Keepers no longer have to live in isolation for weeks at a time.

Islay, the most southerly island of the Inner Hebrides, lies to the north-east of the North Channel. Because Loch Gruinart and Loch Indaal cut deep into the island, the coastline is 155 miles long. The surrounding seas have long been hazardous to ships for there are hundreds of hidden rocks and reefs. Consequently, there have been many wrecks over the years.

One of the most tragic concerned the loss of the Exmouth Castle. After leaving Londonderry, the Rhinns of Islay Lighthouse was mistaken for that of Tory Island. When the ship wrecked in April 1847, 241 emigrants, men, women and children lost their lives. A memorial near Sanaigmore Bay is dedicated to their memory. Continue reading...

Islay Inspired Book to be Published Soon

Jöns Hellsing is an absorbing storyteller from Sweden whose heart is divided between Sweden and Scotland, and Islay in particular, as Jöns renovated the old coast guard station overlooking Portnahaven. You probably know it as the wee square building on the hill above High Street. Nowadays it is run as a holiday accommodation, Four Winds, and it has some magnificent views. Over the last years Jöns has been working on an Islay inspired book which will be soon be published under the name "Hope Island Trilogy". The Hope Island Trilogy is not a story about real Islay people. It’s a 100% made up story on a fictive island called Eilean Dóchas ”somewhere off the west coast of Scotland”. As the book is Islay-inspired I asked Jöns to send me some more info about himself and his new book.

Jöns: "My great great great grandfather Alexander MacLaren was a business man with sugar plantations in British Guyana and a farm on Kintyre. In May 1862, he bought the Sunderland & Foreland Estate on Islay including Coull and Cladville on the Rhinns. Through heritage and a trust called ”Mary Baker’s Trust", Cladville Estate has remained in my family even though all the land has been bought out by local farmers and crofters. Continue reading....

WW100 Commemorations Islay

Stuart Graham writes for the Ileach Newspaper:

The SS Tuscania was a troopship carrying American servicemen towards the Great War. The Tuscania was part of convoy HX20 bound for Liverpool. On board were over 2,000 American servicemen and a crew of 384. The convoy was headed for the North Channel when they were seen by a U-boat and shadowed until just after dark. At this point the Uboat commander, Captain Wilhelm Meyer, moved in to launch an attack. At 6:40pm he fired two torpedoes at the Tuscania. The first one missed. The second one hit the Tuscania amidships. Having fired the torpedoes the submarine immediately dived to escape as escort vessels came to attack. The Tuscania was roughly halfway between Rathlin Island and Islay when it was hit.

Twenty sailors were killed almost immediately by the blast and the inrush of water into the engine room. The ship was plunged into darkness and began to list. The American troops had all done several abandon-ship exercises and began assembling at their designated spaces. Three escort destroyers, Grasshopper, Mosquito and Pigeon arrived and helped take off survivors and the remaining troops and crew then took to the lifeboats. There was quite a heavy swell running which made for some difficulties in launching the lifeboats; several men were pitched into the sea. A couple of lifeboats made their way to safety in the north of Ireland while the others made their way to Islay. Continue reading...

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