Iona mourns a lost son and three missing victims of boat tragedy

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The Independent Online
BITING WINDS and unanswered questions lashed the island of Iona in equal measure yesterday as the community buried the first of last week's boating accident victims.

More than 300 people packed into Iona Abbey for yesterday's service for Robert Hay, the only one of the drowned men whose body has yet been recovered. Among the mourners was Gordon Grant, the accident's sole survivor.

"Why were four young people so central to the life of this island taken from us so suddenly?" asked the Rev Peter Millar, a friend of Mr Hay's family, who took the service in the 12th-century abbey.

He spoke for the entire island. Eleven days have passed since the five men capsized as they returned in the early hours from a dance on neighbouring Mull; eleven days of persistent, frustrated searching for any trace of the other three men.

The families of the victims had insisted yesterday's service was for Mr Hay rather than a memorial for all those who died. But it was difficult for thoughts not to turn also to Logie MacFadyen, Alisdair Dougal and David Kirkpatrick, whose bodies remain unfound. For their families the 11 days of searching have been desperate.

"These days on Iona, so close to Christmas, seem so unreal. Days pass but the markers of our ordinary life seem far away," said Mr Millar. "Our emotions and our spirits are overwhelmed in the face of such enormous grief."

He went on: "Although healing will slowly come to our broken community, for generations to come the events of the night of 13 December will be retold many times.

"This tragedy which has touched the lives of so many people around the world will become part of the folklore of our island."

Inside the abbey the congregation sang the hymns "Morning Has Broken" and the song "Fields of Athenry". As the service progressed Mr Millar went to comfort Mr Hay's parents, John and Mary.

Outside the wind had not let up and it howled as six pall bearers shouldered their load and paced into the graveyard, cramped with the remains of Scottish kings, sailors lost in action and generations of islanders. One large inscribed slab marks the site where a couple and their eight sons lie.

Mr Millar said Mr Hay would lie in a graveyard which over the centuries had welcomed "crofters and kings". His family and friends would have to make do with memories of his "laughter and life, friendship and warm heart".

And finally among the terrible black gloom, Mr Millar spoke of the future. "These four young men were committed to this community," he said. "And we owe it to them not to give in to total despair but to move on in hope as a community."

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