Hartlepool bellringer who perished in shipping disaster honoured

School children and project leaders at the unveiling of the Iolaire cairn memorial on the Isle of Lewis
School children and project leaders at the unveiling of the Iolaire cairn memorial on the Isle of Lewis

A new memorial which honours a Hartlepool sailor who perished at sea almost 100 years ago has been unveiled.

Frederick Charles McCarthy, aged 33, was among 201 sailors who died when Her Majesty’s Yacht Iolaire sank near the Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Outer Hebrides on New Year’s Day in 1919.

The plaque as part of the Iolaire memorial

The plaque as part of the Iolaire memorial

The vessel was returning from the First World War when it hit rocks in bad weather just outside Stornoway harbour.

Yesterday, a memorial called a cairn made up of 201 stones – representing one for each person who died – collected by school children from each sailor’s home town or village, was unveiled on the island.

The stone for Frederick was supplied by local bellringer Andrew Frost after reading an appeal in the Hartlepool Mail.

Fred was a bellringer at Stranton Church, in Hartlepool, and was a member of the Durham and Newcastle Association of Bellringers.

He is commemorated on a plaque in Newcastle Cathedral and also on a plaque in Stranton Church.

The Nicolson Institute, the main secondary school on the Isle of Lewis, decided to create the memorial to commemorate the tragic event ahead of its Centenary.

Project organiser Tony Robson said of the unveiling ceremony: “I am just so pleased.

“The Nicholson is very proud to have participated in this and produced something that is going to last another century at least.

“We had some difficulty getting stones from one or two places. We are very grateful to the Hartlepool Mail for coming to the rescue and putting us in touch with somebody who knew Frederick rather than someone going out and randomly picking a stone.

“It shows if you are a bell ringer they don’t forget you.”

Fred is believed to have been a carpenter by trade and lived in Hope Street, West Harlepool, before joining the Mercantile Marine Reserve in the First World War.

The Iolaire, which means Eagle in Gaelic, was carrying 281 people on board when she ran into trouble only about 75ft from the shore.

Only 81 people survived. The memorial also includes a specially made bench, and a slate engraving.

It is the first monument to the disaster on the island.

Tony said previously: “For a small community to lose 201 young guys, it was almost unspoken of for years.

“It was probably one of Britain’s worst peacetime shipping disasters.”