In the Wake of Metagama: An Atlantic Odyssey in Story and Song

An ensemble of acclaimed Highland & Island musicians and writers come together this month for a series of concerts to mark the 100th anniversary of a mass emigration from the islands of Lewis, Uist and Barra. When SS Metagama left Stornoway with over 300 young islanders on an Assisted Passage sailing to Canada in April 1923, followed in 1924 by two further ships, the Marloch and Canada, it was on such a scale that it attracted the attention of the world’s press.

Coming on the back of WWI and the Iolaire disaster, this loss of around 1500 young people would have a devastating impact on the Hebrides, demographically, socially and culturally. As a result, the name Metagama retains a profoundly important place in Hebridean folk memory to this day.

Inverness musician Liza Mulholland, one of the show’s creators, has a very personal connection, in that her Lewis grandparents emigrated on the Metagama, later travelling south to Detroit, and meeting and marrying there. Liza’s mother was born there before the family returned home in 1930, settling in Inverness. Liza spent several weeks in Toronto, Detroit and Chicago in October 2022 with co-creator, award-winning writer Donald S Murray, following in the footsteps of her grandparents and their fellow Hebrideans.

This centenary concert celebrates the lives and stories of those emigrants, many of whom crossed into the USA, working in car factories and construction. Through new and traditional music and song, story and visuals, the audience will be carried aboard the Metagama, on a journey to the plains and lakes of Canada, to 1920s Detroit and Prohibition, through the ebb and flow of fortunes on both sides of the Atlantic, and onto the present day. 

Liza and Donald are joined by Lewis artistes, singer and actor Dolina MacLennan, Gaelic singer and piper Calum Alex Macmillan, and singer-songwriter Willie Campbell of bands Astrid and Tumbling Souls. Also bringing composing and performance talents to the show are Trad Award-winning fiddler Charlie Mackerron of Capercaillie and Session A9, Canadian cellist Christine Hanson, as well as visual artist Doug Robertson.

‘In the Wake of Metagama’ launches in Stornoway’s An Lanntair Theatre on 21st April 2023, the 100 anniversary of the ship’s sailing, followed by a second night there on 22nd, before going on to Eden Court Theatre, Inverness on Saturday 29th April. Other dates tbc.