Up Helly Aa

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Up Helly Aa is a fire festival which is currently celebrated annually at 11 locations throughout Shetland, involving 12 Up Helly Aa Festivals. The longest running, largest and most well known is held in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January, and is the most synonymous with the term 'Up Helly Aa'. Those outwith Lerwick, (sometimes referred to as 'country Up Helly Aa's'), are smaller but they are nevertheless spectacular. The only Up Helly Aa date that is fixed is Lerwick – the others may not happen each year and the dates may vary - but the usual dates for all the festivals currently celebrated (in the order they occur), are shown below:

Festival Date

Scalloway Fire Festival
Lerwick Up Helly Aa
Lerwick Junior Up Helly Aa
Nesting and Girlsta Up Helly Aa
Uyeasound Up Helly Aa
Northmavine Up Helly Aa
Bressay Up Helly Aa
Cullivoe Up Helly Aa
Norwick Up Helly Aa
South Mainland Up Helly Aa
Walls Junior Up Helly Aa
Delting Up Helly Aa

Second Friday of January
Last Tuesday of January
Last Tuesday of January
10 days after Lerwick festival
Second Friday of February
Third Friday of February
Last Friday of February
Last Friday of February
Saturday - two weeks after Uyeasound
; Second Friday of March
Second Saturday of March
'Third Friday of March


File:LUHA Tar Barrel BAN Notice.jpg
Original "Tar Barrel" ban notice, dated 12 December 1874, now housed at Shetland Museum.<br>Photo by Kozetland1.
File:1908 LUHA Galley.jpg
1908 Lerwick Galley.
File:Scalloway Bill 1907 - kozetland1.jpg
1907 Scalloway Bill (click to read).<br>Photo by Kozetland1.
File:1982 LUHA Collecting Sheet.jpg
1982 Lerwick Collecting Sheet.
File:Uyeasound Up-Helly-Aa 1912 - Shetland Museum and Archives JJ00052.jpg
1912 Uyeasound Galley with Jarl and squad Ancient Picts. Jarl Johnny Sutherland at left.<br>Photo from Shetland Museum and Archives.

The origin of the name “Up Helly Aa” (or Up-Helly-A’), is debateable. It is generally accepted however, that the term probably refers to a celebration of the last day of Christmas festivities. Historically the 5th of January was Old Yule, and the 24th day following the 5th was the final day of the Yuletide celebrations - a day of fire, feasting and frolic - Up Helly Aa day. It has also been referred to as the “four and twenty day” and “Antimass” or “St. Anthony Day” - all meaning “the whole festival at an end”.

“Up Helly Aa” may also be analogous with the Lowland Scots “Uphaliday” which refers to the first day after termination of the Christmas holidays. Uphaliday however, was the popular name for Twelfth Night, rather than Twenty-fourth Night, although it may refer to a later date in the far north of Scotland. Both Uphaliday and Up Helly Aa also share the practice of “guizing” (a guizer dressing up, assuming a mask and participating in the event), as part of the festivities. The term “Helly”, is also known in Shetland as the “holy time”, Sabbath or Weekend.

Whatever its origin, the term Up Helly Aa was first used in Lerwick sometime during the 1870’s, and refers to a fire festival that is celebrated annually. The festivals roots date back to the Napoleonic period when rival groups of Lerwick youths dragged sledges with burning “Tar Barrels” on them through the town as part of Yule festivities. These “Tar Barrels” were basically movable bonfires consisting of a sledge or wooden platform on runners to which a chain was attached. Barrels sawn in half were attached to the top of the sledge and filled with tar and other combustible materials. The largest “Tar Barrel” apparently consisted of twelve tubs of burning tar. Young men of the town formed “squads” to prepare and drag the tar barrels and each squad “mustered” its tar barrel in secret, planning the event week’s in advance. Materials for the tar barrels were always ‘obtained’ without cost to the squad. Chains for dragging the sledges were removed from beaches, but the most difficult acquisition was the tar. This usually involved a clandestine visit to the [then] Lerwick Gas Works - this being proudly known as “axing (asking) for what we want”. Relevant materials for the tar barrels construction were usually left outside various Lerwick establishments around Yule, while the Gas Works locked away the best tar and left old barrels available for the raiders.

The muster for the event took place on the night of the burning. However, special constables were employed to try and prevent the tar barrelling activities. Squad members dressed mostly in sacks to disguise themselves from the constables and prevent being covered in tar, with their sole aim to drag the burning tar barrels through the town to the Market Cross. Frequent clashes with the special constables added to the excitement, and not surprisingly made the procedure more dangerous. Even more hazardous was a meeting of two or more different squads in Lerwick’s narrow streets while dragging the burning tar barrels. It was apparently normal for one sledge to pass completely over the top of another and there were frequent spillages of burning tar along the street. They also burned paint off doors, broke windows and smeared buildings with tar. Naturally Lerwick's magistrates disapproved of such practices, and tried to ban them in 1874.

Although the ban did not entirely stop the tar barrelling activities, they were very much reduced and the young men of the town began experimenting with new and more sophisticated Yuletide activities, which included performing acts (guizing). The concept of guizing had long been a part of the tar barrelling activities, with the squads cleaning themselves up after the burning activities and changing into self-made costumes which completely masked the wearer’s identity. Squads would dress up collectively under one theme, although not necessarily with identical costumes, and visit “open” houses around the town where the host and hostess invited guizers to celebrate in their homes and provided refreshments for them. The guizers costumes however, were rarely completed before the night with the result that by the time the squads were ready it was frequently three in the morning or later before the visitations began. There were usually a dozen or so “open” houses and the guizers tried to visit as many as possible. At each house there would also be young women who the squad members would partner in traditional dances without revealing themselves.

Following the Tar Barrelling ban there were occasional torch-lit processions around Christmas and New Year in Lerwick until 1881, when the first organised procession was held on the 29th January (by then called Up Helly Aa day). The procession of around 60 torches started from the Market Cross at 6pm, marched to the south end of the town, then countermarched and made its way back to the north end, where they wheeled and returned to the Market Cross. There was no final bonfire but the guizer visitations began immediately after the procession, an innovation greatly welcomed by the “open” houses. The year 1881 may be considered as the first year of the Up Helly Aa fire festival as it is known today.

In 1882 the event took a step forward with the appointment of Peter W. Greig as “Worthy Chief Guizer”, to organise, lead and form the focal point of the Lerwick procession. By 1886 the “Worthy Chief Guizer”, along with an organising Committee, were in complete charge of the arrangements for Up Helly Aa, and that same year the first Junior Up Helly Aa procession was also held, an hour and a half prior to the main event. In 1888 the Lerwick Brass Band were first used to provide music for the procession and in 1889 the first model Viking Longship (Up Helly Aa Galley) was added to the procession to be set alight with the torches at the end of the procession. This was an important landmark; the mythology of the dead Jarl's journey to Valhalla on board a blazing longship became interwoven with the other aspects of the Festival. The author of this innovation is not recorded but, in all probability, it was the young talented author and poet, Haldane Burgess. He was steeped in Norse lore, and in later years, was the recognised consultant to the Up Helly Aa Committee on all matters pertaining to Norse long-ships, heraldic designs and costumes of the Vikings.

Unruly behaviour reminiscent of the Tar-barrelling days had now ceased, and houses around Lerwick were increasingly willing to open their doors for the entertainment of the guizers who were now performing ever more intricate “stunts” and “acts” during their visitations.

The Shetland News of that year gave a full account of the galley introduction to the proceedings:<br>

“The procession commenced about half-past nine o’clock when some eight or nine hundred people had gathered in the vicinity of the Market Cross. In a few minutes numerous squads of guizers were to be seen about the cross carrying torches. Just as the last torch bearer was sweeping north over Commercial Street, the Norse galley came sweeping along from Queens Lane.
The procession proceeded along Commercial Street, up Harbour Street and Market Street, along the Hillhead and down Queen’s Lane. The South end was then visited, where in consequence of the narrowness of the street, some difficulty was experienced in wheeling around, and it looked for a moment as though some of the guizers would not only carry torches, but become torches themselves. As it filed along the street, the procession had a very striking and picturesque appearance, the gaudy dresses being seen to advantage in the strong glare of light. A halt was made at the Market Cross. Here the two fiddlers got out of the vehicle when a volley of torches, somewhat prematurely, we think, was directed towards the doomed galley. Those in charge of her speedily seized the rope, and fast and furiously drove the now kindling longboat over the esplanade. Arrived within a hundred yards of the North Loadberry the boat, blazing like fury, was directed towards Commercial Street, and Southwards flew the flaming longship.... This is the nearest approach to a Tar Barrel yet attained since that somewhat barbarous form of amusement was abolished by the strong hand of the law about a dozen years ago. The scene was certainly unusual, and the brilliancy of the whole affair - albeit short-lived - has seldom been surpassed in Lerwick. The procession stopped at the Market Cross. Here the boat was literally crammed with torch remnants and burned for more than an hour, during which the guisarding squads assembled and betook themselves to the houses they frequented on Christmas morning. All passed off without accident, and proved most agreeable to both visitors and entertainers. The weather during the movement was cold, but seasonable and bracing. The torches numbered about one hundred and twenty. After this part of the proceedings the guizers dispersed on their usual rounds amongst the houses, a good many of which were open to receive them."

The dragging of the burning galley around the streets of Lerwick (reminiscent of the “Tar Barrelling” days), has never been repeated however. The early galleys showed considerable variety in design and were often converted old boats, a deckhouse was even built on the stern of the 1892 galley. The 1893 Galley was the first to appear with a mast and Raven Banner and in 1897 the first “severed hand” appeared on the galley. The often related story about the significance of the “severed hand” is as follows:

Two longships, each commanded by a Jarl, were cruising on a westerly course from Norway when a lookout shouted “Land Ahoy!” It is generally accepted that the land would have been probably been a Shetland island. What was important was that whoever touched the land first would own it. Land was important and valuable, and there then followed a race between the two ships to get to the shore first. As the shore drew nearer the ships were neck and neck, but as the gap between ships and shore narrowed, one began to edge slightly ahead.
Determined not to be the loser, the Jarl in the trailing longship laid his arm on the deck and, with one stroke of his axe, severed his hand from arm. Seizing the severed hand, he threw it far ahead, where it fell on the shore before his rival's longship could touch land. He had touched first and the new land was then his!

In 1899 the “Bill” or “Proclamation” was introduced to the Lerwick Festival - a large billboard produced annually and erected at the Market Cross before daylight. It gives nominal instructions for the guizers, but also details the misdeeds of local characters and organisations through the preceding year and generally pokes fun at authority. A few people named on the bill may be offended but the majority take it in good fun and are generally quite proud to have got a mention. Originally the Bill bore an impression of the Worthy Chief Guizer’s foot as his seal of approval, but this had ceased by 1906 to be replaced by a seal of an axe with each year’s Guizer Jarl signing the Bill. A “Bill” is now prepared and displayed annually at all the Up Helly Aa festivals.

Another important innovation in 1890 was the emergence of the “Collecting Sheet”, a record of contributions towards the costs of the festival from the local business community. Collections had been made for a few years prior to the introduction of the “Collecting Sheet” but the 1890 sheet was the first formal method of recording the donations and was also “illuminated” (with a picture at the top), and has changed little in its format since its introduction. In 1905 a Norse War Galley with “U.H.A 1905” on the sail was painted on the sheet by Mr. Ar. Abernethy, along with the head of a Viking, blazing torches and implements of warfare formed into a sheaf in the corner of the picture. This added greatly to the appeal of donating towards the costs and continues in the present festival with members of the Up Helly Aa Committee (usually dressed in dark suits and carrying the “Collecting Sheet” in a wooden briefcase), visiting local businesses for contributions during November/December each year. The “Collecting Sheet” also includes amusing text relating to the fortunes of those contributing, depending on the amount donated. In 1921 the text read:

“Burghers of our Ancient Town - Skjoal! Once again we desire to offer the Annual Sacrifice to our ancient gods. Our BUILDING SCHEME at Garthspool has just begun, and, while we do not desire to BORROW £110,000, nor use an OVERDRAFT to accelerate our CONSUMPT, we guarantee to light up the Town without receiving RETORTS from the GAS COMPANY. The RATE of EXCHANGE having fallen, and our GOVERNMENT GUARANTEE having been withdrawn, we desire to enter into TRADE RELATIONS with you. ...<br>
Donors of £10 will be sent to the Gilbert Bain Hospital<br>
Donors of £5 will be offered the Chairmanship of Lerwick Harbour Trust.<br>
Donors of 12/6 will be regarded with suspicion.<br>
Donors of a lovely white shillin - der nae wird aboot dat.”<br>

In 1906 the “Worthy Chief Guizer” appeared in Viking costume for the first time, along with helmet, shield and axe, and his title was changed to “Guizer Jarl” (Earl). The arrangement of an organised procession on the 29th January continued into the 1900's until in 1908, for convenience, it was decided to hold the event on the last Tuesday of January, and this has been the custom in Lerwick ever since. The Wednesday following was also made a public holiday. As the Festival grew in popularity with the guizers, “open” houses proved insufficient for their entertainment, and by 1910 halls were being used as well as houses. The Rechabite Hall (Chapel House) and Masonic Hall were the first to be used, with halls being used exclusively by 1928 when a total of 11 were open for the guizers.

In the early 1900’s there was also sometimes a second ship model along with a galley, made by the local ship's carpenters and joiners or “Dock's Boys” depicting (usually) full rigged ships. This was discontinued in 1912 however, and ever since the “Dock's Boys” have built the annual Lerwick Galley. The first Lerwick “Jarl's Squad” appeared in 1921 with the Jarl's personal group all being dressed in Viking costume, this continuing annually to the present day. They were also the first to represent a Norse ‘figurehead’, although they simply called themselves ‘Vikings’. Future Guizer Jarls’ and their squads represented Norse figureheads (mythical or real) annually thereafter, and in 1933 the first Jarl’s Squad “Saga” (story of a chosen Norse figurehead), appeared in the printed programme of events. That years Jarl A.R.M. Mathewson, chose to represent "Frithiof", the text is reproduced below:

One of the most famous personages In Norse mythical history, Frithiof (pronounced "Frityoff"), figures largely in the 1933 Up-Helly-Aa. The galley represents his ship Ellida, the border of the Proclamation symbolizes his life, and he is himself represented by the JarI's squad, on whose shields is emblazoned the Greenland falcon (Gyr Falcon) which Frithiof left to his lover Ingeborg, and which was the first to greet him on his return from Orkney as told below.
Frithiof was brought up with the children of Belé King of Sogn in Norway, who had conquered Orkney along with Thorsten, Frithiof's father, and Angantyr, who was made Jarl of Orkney. Frithiof heired from his father a famous sword, a magic arm-ring, and the magic dragon-ship Ellida, and he became famed for his prowess as a Viking. But the course of his life was chiefly determined by his passion for Ingeborg, King Belé's daughter, with whom he had been brought up, and to whom he remained constant during his whole life, exhibiting in this as in everything else a character of high nobility. Refused Ingeborg's hand by her brothers Helgé and Halfdan (King Belé being dead), Frithiof committed sacrilege by plighting his troth with Ingeborg in Balder's temple, thereby falling under the judgment of Helgé, now King, who sent him to Orkney to demand arrears of tribute from Angantyr, but secretly employed witches to raise a tempest to destroy him. Escaping from this storm, Frithiof spent a winter on friendly terms with Angantyr, but on his return home he found his homestead destroyed by Helgé, and Ingeborg married to King Ring of Ringric.
After three years of Viking raids, Frithiof returned in disguise to the Ringric Court, impelled by his love of Ingeborg. After his disguise was penetrated he became the faithful friend of the aging King Ring, and undertook to ensure the succession to the throne of Sigurd, Ring's little son. This promise he fulfilled on the old King's death in spite of the clamours of the people, who desired him to take the crown for himself. It is said that when Sigurd grew old enough to manage his kingdom, Frithiof and Ingeborg married and retired to Hordaland, a land which he had conquered.

Most of the Jarl’s Stories originate from the Norse and Icelandic Sagas but it should be noted that not all are accurately described or translated, and on occasion have been known to be complete fiction.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the Lerwick galley was burnt annually at the Market Cross, but lack of space necessitated a move to the end of Victoria Pier around the time of WWI. Following a break in the festival for WWII the 1949 galley burning took place at the Gilbertson Park, with the old dump adjacent to Clickimin Loch used from 1950-56. In 1957 the final burning site was changed to the north King George V Playing Field and has remained there ever since. Apart from the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, and the War years (1915-19 and 1940-48) when there were no Lerwick Up Helly Aa, the only other events that have interfered with the Festival were a delay of 2 weeks in 1900 due to a bout of influenza in Lerwick, a delay of 2 weeks in 1936 due to the death of George V, and the death of Winston Churchill in 1965, which caused a temporary postponement until the 2nd February in honour of his memory. At the outbreak of the First World War there were around 300 guizers taking part in the Lerwick festival, by 1949 this had risen to over 600, with the number steadily rising until levelling out at around 950 in the current festival.

Although the Lerwick Up Helly Aa is the oldest and largest Shetland fire festival, the Scalloway Fire Festival also dates back to the end of the 1800's. At that time it was also held at Christmas. There appears to be no record of the Tar Barrel type of activity which was associated with the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, but every Christmas night saw large bonfires being lit on Garriock's pier to celebrate the festival. In 1898 a Viking Galley appeared in the procession for the first time, and was burnt on the pier on New Year's Day. Over the next few years the custom was for the guizers to parade through Scalloway on Christmas morning and in the evening, the torchlight procession was from Blacksness to the pier where the final bonfire was held, the centre-piece being occasionally a model galley, sometimes an old boat. A 'decorated cart' was also usually part of the parade. The festival remained mainly a Christmas celebration until between the wars, when it was changed from Christmas Day to Christmas Eve. Following WWII there were occasional festivals held, but it was not until 1979 that the Scalloway festival re-started again annually in its current format.

Some of the other Shetland Fire Festivals were also established early in the last century. The Uyeasound Up Helly Aa began in 1911, with a Viking Jarl and Galley recorded in 1912. The Hillswick Up Helly Aa was celebrated in 1912-1913, discontinued during WWI, then ocassionally up to about 1930, the Ollaberry Up Helly Aa from 1912 up to the First World War, continuing for at least ten years after the First World War (also discontinued thereafter), and the Lunnasting Up Helly Aa was first celebrated in 1913, but stopped being held in 1931.

The currently known dates for the establishment of all the festivals are shown below:

Lerwick - late 1800's (first torchlit procession in 1881, first galley appeared in 1889).<br>
Scalloway - late 1800's to WWII, ocassional festivals thereafter until restarted in 1979 (first galley appeared in 1898).<br>
Uyeasound - 1911 (Viking Jarl and Galley introduced in 1912).<br>
Ollaberry - 1912 to at least 10 years after WWI (no longer in existence).<br>
Hillswick - 1912-1913, discontinued during WWI, then ocassionally up to about 1930 (no longer in existence).<br>
Lunnasting - 1913, 1927-1929 and 1931 (no longer in existence).<br>
Bressay - 1930-34, re-started in 1962.<br>
Lerwick Junior - 1956 (although there were earlier "unofficial" Lerwick Junior Up Helly Aa).<br>
Cullivoe - 1957.<br>
Nesting & Girlsta - 1961.<br>
Brae Junior - 1970 to 1982 (no longer in existence).<br>
Northmavine - 1975.<br>
Mossbank - 1981-1988 (no longer in existence).<br>
Delting - 1981. Superceded Brae Junior, originally called Brae Up Helly Aa, the name was changed in 2002.<br>
Norwick - 1985.<br>
Baltasound - 1986-1988 (no longer in existence).<br>
Walls Junior - at latest 1990.<br>
South Mainland - 2010.<br>

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It is generally quite well known that the explicit use of Norse themes in Up Helly Aa was introduced in the 19th century. The designs initially used for the galleys and Jarl's squad suits were influenced more by the stereotypes of heraldry and of the Victorian Romantics, than hard archaeology. During the early years, although the Jarl's squads usually portrayed "Vikings," this was not always the case. Sometimes the Jarl chose to portray pre-Viking period mythological heroes, or Norse gods. Indeed in the 1904 festival the Jarl, wearing a velvet costume, chose to represent Hamlet. As the festival developed through the 20th century it has become standard for the Jarl to choose an historical figure from the true Viking period, but there has been no wish to seek overall archaeological accuracy with either the suits or galley.

In the case of Up Helly Aa helmets, at one time winged or horned helmets were ubiquitous, reflecting the typical Wagnerian operatic style. There is much evidence for the wearing of helmets featuring animal devices, including wings and horns, in the centuries preceding the Viking period. However, it is now widely believed that Viking helmets were functional without horns or wings.

"There is no evidence, archaeological or otherwise, that Viking warriors wore any type of horns or wings on their helmets. What we do have is one single piece of evidence, the ninth century Oseberg tapestry, suggesting a rare ceremonial use (the relevant figure on the tapestry may even be that of a god, rather than representative of real Vikings) and plenty of evidence for plain conical/domed helmets made mainly of leather."<ref>Did Vikings Wear Horned Helmets?</ref>

Since the 1980s a number of Jarl's squads have used non-adorned helmets based on real Viking helmets, but there have continued to be squads opting to keep with the traditional wings or horns. The following statement is often made:

"It's not traditional Viking, it's traditional Up Helly Aa." Anon.

The Modern Festival - During the Day

Each of the festivals has its own unique character and although some are smaller events than others, they allow Up Helly Aa (UHA) celebrations to be enjoyed throughout the isles and from mid-January through to mid-March. One of the more unusual events associated with Up Helly Aa took place at the 1991 Northmavine Festival when the Guizer Jarl George Robertson chose to get married on the galley there on Up Helly Aa day, in full costume. Photos of the event can be seen on the Heard Website. Some of the festivals are relatively recent celebrations - the first South Mainland Up Helly Aa was in 2010, the Norwick Up Helly Aa began as a local festival in 1985, the Walls Junior Up Helly Aa began at the latest in 1990 and is exclusively for the local Scouts and Guides, and the Delting Up Helly Aa was formed in 1981 following a schools festival the Brae Junior Up Helly Aa. It is worth noting that all the festivals allow women into the Jarl's Squad and also the Guizer Squads, apart from the Lerwick Festival which remains exclusively a male event.<br>

File:2011 CUHA Jarl Squad - kozetland1.jpg
2011 Cullivoe Jarl's Squad.Photo by Kozetland1.
File:2012 SFF 13 - kozetland1.jpg
2012 Scalloway Jarl's Squad.Photo by Kozetland1.

The day of the Up Helly Aa follows a similar and long-established pattern for most of the festivals. The Jarl’s Squad muster at an appointed time and place (early in the morning) usually where the years Bill is on display. The Jarl’s Squad then undertake visits to various local establishments throughout the day - Schools, Care Homes etc., where they sing songs associated with the event to those present and display the years chosen Viking attire.

File:2011 NMUHA Ollaberry School 6.jpg
2011 Northmavine Jarl's Squad at Ollaberry School.Photo by Kozetland1.
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2011 South Mainland Jarl's Squad at Dunrossness School.Photo by Kozetland1.
File:2011 NAGUHA Squad 5 - kozetland1.jpg
2011 Nesting & Girlsta Jarl's Squad at Whiteness School.Photo by Kozetland1.
File:UUHA 2011 Squad at Baltasound School 2 - kozetland1.jpg
2011 Uyeasound Jarl's Squad at Baltasound School.Photo by Kozetland1.

The years Galley is also on display and the Jarl’s Squad pose with the galley for photographs during the day. The costume of each years Jarl’s squad is usually a closely guarded secret and can take many months and considerable time, effort (and cost) to produce. The Jarl's squad also choose a unique Up Helly Aa Shield each year and collections of these may be found in various halls and schools through Shetland. The Raven Banner, a red flag with a black raven in the centre, usually flies somewhere relevant to each UHA.

File:LUHA 2011 Jarl Squad Galley - Kozetland1.JPG
2011 Lerwick Jarl's Squad with Galley.Photo by Kozetland1.
File:2011 DUHA Jarls Squad 2 - kozetland1.jpg
2011 Delting Jarl's Squad with Galley.Photo by Kozetland1.

Some of the UHA’s retain their galley from year to year and burn a ‘secondary’ galley. The Bressay Galley was built in 1962 and is used during each years celebrations, as are the Uyeasound, Norwick and Walls Junior Galleys, while Lerwick, Scalloway, Northmavine, Cullivoe, Nesting & Girlsta, Delting and the South Mainland all build new galleys each year to be burnt on the night of the festival. The Delting festival is unique however as they retain their carved galley head each year and substitute a secondary head for the burning.

Galley Heads from ten of the 2010 Up Helly Aa festivals.<br>

File:2010 Bressay Galley Head.jpg
Bressay Galley 'Bryoni Jen'.
File:2010 Cullivoe Galley Head.jpg
Cullivoe Galley 'Maisie June'.
File:2010 Delting Galley Head.jpg
Delting Galley 'Elka'.
File:2010 Lerwick Galley Head.jpg
Lerwick Galley 'Avie Jane'.
File:2010 Nesting and Girlsta Galley Head.jpg
Nesting & Girlsta Galley 'Vilhjalmr'.
File:2010 Northmavine Galley Head.jpg
Northmavine Galley 'Baresark'.
File:2010 Norwick Galley Head.jpg
Norwick Galley 'Farfarer'.
File:2010 Scalloway Galley Head.jpg
Scalloway Galley 'Hame Lea'.
File:SMUHA Galleyhead - Muckleossa Crop.jpg
South Mainland Galley 'Skidbladnir'.
File:2010 Uyeasound Galley Head.jpg
Uyeasound Galley 'Engistou'.

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The Modern Festival - Evening Procession and Burning of the Galley

<center>2012 Scalloway Fire Festival Procession. Photo by Kozetland1.</center> <br> In the evening the Jarl's Squad and all the other guizer squads muster at a nominated locationn, usually around 7pm, and are given torches in their prescribed order. The Jarl's Squad is always number 1, the following years Jarl's Squad are number 2, followed by the rest of the guizer squads. In most cases a maroon or firework is fired to signify the start of the ‘light-up’. This is one of the most spectacular moment for spectators. First total darkness, then all along the ranks the red flares to light the torches, then the blaze of torches held aloft, all done with expert timing.

After the light up, the galley, the Squads and (usually) a Brass Band and/or Pipe Band pass down the ranks of guizers to the head of the procession with the guizers counter marching behind them. The procession then moves off singing the Up Helly Aa Song. After marching through a route, long or shortened depending on the weather conditions, the guizer squads form circles around the galley. The Guizer Jarl calls for three cheers for the "da boys dat built da galley" (Galley builders), "da boys dat med da torches" (Torch makers), and the festival "Up Helly Aa" and another call for three cheers for the Guizer Jarl (always the loudest), after which a bugle call is usually sounded, giving the Jarl and his squad time to retreat from the impending inferno, and after the last note the torches are thrown into the galley. The front rank of the squads throw first, then retreat to allow the row behind to throw theirs and so on until all the torches have been thrown into the galley.

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2011 Lerwick Procession.<br>Photo by Robert Perry, courtesey The Scotsman.
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2011 Lerwick Procession.<br>Photo by Robert Perry, courtesey The Scotsman.

Procession Details

Festival Procession Length (km) Approximate No. Carrying Torches Galley Burning Site
Scalloway Fire Festival <center>1.11</center> <center>170-200</center> On the sea adjacent to the Scalloway Boating Club
Lerwick Up Helly Aa <center>2.20</center> <center>850-900</center> King George V Playpark, Lerwick
Lerwick Junior Up Helly Aa <center>0.54</center> <center>80-100</center> King George V Playpark, Lerwick
Nesting and Girlsta Up Helly Aa <center>0.80</center> <center>120-150</center> Along the shoreline opposite the Old Nesting School
Uyeasound Up Helly Aa <center>1.23</center> <center>140-170</center> On the beach adjacent to Easter Loch
Northmavine Up Helly Aa <center>1.14</center> <center>140-170</center> On the loch at Urafirth (The Wadill)
Cullivoe Up Helly Aa <center>0.86</center> <center>90-110</center> On the sea at Culli Voe
Bressay Up Helly Aa <center>0.65</center> <center>c.60</center> On the banks of the Voe of Leiraness
Norwick Up Helly Aa <center>1.02</center> <center>100-140</center> Above Norwick beach opposite ‘The Taing’
South Mainland Up Helly Aa (Cunningsburgh) <center>1.44</center> <center>350-400</center> On the sea off Mail Beach
South Mainland Up Helly Aa (Bigton) <center>1.07</center> <center>350-400</center> On the sea off St. Ninians Isle Ayre
South Mainland Up Helly Aa (Sumburgh) <center>1.01</center> <center>350-400</center> On the sea off Grutness Beach
Walls Junior Up Helly Aa <center>0.47</center> <center>10-20</center> Along the shoreline near the Walls Graveyard
Delting Up Helly Aa <center>1.64</center> <center>300-350</center> On the sea off the Delting Boating Club

Some UHA festivals burn their galley floating on the sea - Cullivoe, Northmavine, Delting, Scalloway and the South Mainland currently do this, while the others have designated burning sites that are traditionally used each year. In Lerwick the current burning site is the King George V park alongside King Harald and King Erik Street (near the Town Hall), although historically it has also been at the Market Cross, Victoria Pier and what are now the playing fields north of the Clickimin Leisure Centre.<br><br>

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2011 Lerwick Galley Burning.<br>Photo by Robert Perry, courtesey The Scotsman.
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2011 South Mainland Up Helly Aa Galley Kverndal burnt on the sea at Grutness.<br>Photo by Kozetland1.

After the galley burning the guizer squads disperse to begin evening festivities which involves visiting local halls where they show off their costumes, sing songs or perform satirical acts, which may be based on local topical news events. Musicians are in every hall, but each squad (especially the Jarl's Squad), may also have musicians of their own who join in with the resident bands and play for the inevitable dancing. Younger men, usually sons of squad members, who carry the musical instruments are known as "fiddle-box carriers." In the Lerwick halls, non-alcoholic refreshments are traditionally provided which are served by volunteer 'hosts' and 'hostesses' who also ensure that events go smoothly. The festivities continue into the early hours of the morning.<br>

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2010 South Mainland Guizer Squad 'Yellow Fever'.<br>Photo by Jeannie.
File:2011 LUHA Squad 14 kozetland1.JPG
2011 Lerwick Guizer Squad 'Up Helly Aa 2111'.<br>Photo by Kozetland1.

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The Music

There are three songs most commonly associated with Up Helly Aa, the oldest being The Norseman's Home, first sung in 1896. The words are of obscure origin and it is sung to a traditional Norwegian melody. It is usually played at the funerals of Ex-Jarls, and is widely used as Shetland's unofficial anthem. The following year, J.J. Haldane Burgess wrote the Up Helly-Aa Song specially for the occasion. Originally sung to the tune of John Brown's Body, this is sung to music later composed by Thomas Manson. In 1935, John Nicolson's The Galley Song was incorporated and this is sung to a Norwegian folk melody.

Each year's Jarl squad is accompanied by musicians and they also usually perform a song of the Guizer Jarl’s choosing each year. This Squad Tune is typically sung at the various visitations during the day and at each hall through the night. Another notable tune long associated with the Up Helly Aa procession is The Liberty Bell, by the American composer John Philip Sousa, which is perhaps best known as being the theme tune for Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The music played by the Lerwick Brass Band when the Jarl's squad passes up the ranks are termed Ranks Tunes. The most commonly heard song associated with the 'modern' Up Helly Aa however is an abridged version of the Up Helly-Aa Song and The Galley Song, the words of which are shown below:<br> <br>

From grand old Viking centuries Up-Helly-A' has come<br>
Then light the torch and form the march, and sound the rolling drum<br>
And wake the mighty memories of heroes that are dumb<br>
The waves are rolling on<br>
Grand old Vikings ships ruled upon the ocean vast<br>
Their brave battle-songs still thunder on the blast<br>
Their wild war-cry comes a-ringing from the past<br>
We answer it "A-oi"<br>
Roll their glory down the ages<br>
Sons of warriors and sages<br>
When the fight for Freedom rages<br>
Be bold and strong as they<br>
Floats the ravan banner o'er us<br>
Round our Dragon Ship we stand<br>
Voices joined in gladsome chorus<br>
Raised aloft the flaming brand<br>
Voices joined in gladsome chorus<br>
Raised aloft the flaming brand<br>
Every guizer has a duty<br>
When he joins the festive throng<br>
Honour, freedom, love and beauty<br>
In the feast, the dance, the song<br>
Honour, freedom, love and beauty<br>
In the feast, the dance, the song.<br>

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See Also

Other Up Helly Aa Shetlopedia Pages

Up Helly Aa Shields
Up Helly Aa Summer Exhibition
Category:Up Helly Aa Songs
Guizer Jarl
Jarl's Squad
Up Helly Aa Galley
Up Helly Aa - Pictures from the past
Junior Up Helly Aa

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External Links