About the South Mainland Up Helly Aa
The Guizer Jarl & Jarl's Squad
Rather than choose a Guizer Jarl each year from anywhere in the south Mainland the inaugural committee of 2009/10 decided that the south Mainland would be split into 5 'areas' with a Guizer Jarl chosen from each. Each 'area' then takes it in turn to host the SMUHA on a 5 year rotation. The 'areas' are the main centres of population and are [approximately] Gulberwick & Quarff, Cunningsburgh & Fladdabister, Sandwick & Hoswick, Bigton & Levenwick, and Dunrossness. The order of the areas rotation and the initial 5 Guizer Jarl's were decided at the inaugural mass meeting in 2009 and were:

2010 - Bigton & Levenwick - David Smith
2011 - Dunrossness - Brydon Robertson
2012 - Cunningsburgh & Fladdabister - Kevin Adamson
2013 - Sandwick & Hoswick - Dale Smith
2014 - Gulberwick & Quarff - Keith Lobban

The 2015 area then returns to Bigton & Levenwick and the cycle is repeated. A new Guizer Jarl for the 2015 SMUHA was therefore chosen at the annual Mass meeting & AGM held in October 2010, a new Jarl for Dunrossness at the Mass meeting in October 2011, and so on.

The Jarl's Squad consists of the Guizer Jarl (the chief Guizer) and a squad of men, women and children. It was decided from the outset that women could be SMUHA Jarls' and be part of any Jarl's Squad. The Jarl's Squad may range greatly in size with the Guizer Jarl deciding on the final numbers. Each Guizer Jarl also chooses and portray's a figure, either mythical or factual from Viking history each year. Each Jarl's Squad design and make their own suits, and each year the suits are different. Preparation begins well in advance and each Jarl's Squad regalia is a closely guarded secret up to the day of the SMUHA. The Jarl squad also design and manufacture a shield to match their costume or highlight the Viking theme which the squad has chosen to represent, along with viking weaponry, in the form of an axe or similar.

The programme of events and visitations by the Guizer Jarl and his squad may vary from year to year but in general however, the visits start with the Jarl's Squad and the years Galley visiting either or both of the Lerwick schools. Although not part of the south Mainland, many folk involved with the SMUHA live in or have strong ties with Lerwick and the schools are very happy to receive a SMUHA visit. The south Mainland schools of Cunningsburgh, Sandwick and Dunrossness are visited during the day along the with the care home at Levenwick. Each years Jarl's squad may also decide to undertake other visits to places important to them. Locations for the Jarl's squad breakfast, lunch and dinner may also vary from year to year. The Jarl's Squad programme of events for the day are posted on the smuha facebook page.

The Galley
A galley is built each year by members of the SMUHA committee, members of the years Jarl's Squad and interested helpers. The galley is designed and constructed as a boat and is burnt while afloat. The galley colours vary from year to year and are chosen by the Guizer Jarl. The Dragon Head design is based on the well-known dragon head stone carving found at Jarlshof.

The Bill
The 'Bill' or proclamation is created in secret each year and pokes fun at the local community, individuals or events from the previous year. The Guizer Jarl gives his seal of approval by signing the Bill. The decorative 'Bill Head' is painted each year by a local artist chosen by the Guizer Jarl and usually depicts a scene from the Guizer Jarl’s chosen Viking saga. The years Bill is located at a focal point for the area hosting the years SMUHA. In 2010 it was outside the Bigton shop, in 2011 it was at Mainland's shop, in 2012 the Cunningsburgh shop, etc. At some point during the day, usually late morning, the Jarl's Squad and Galley visit the location of the Bill and pose with the years galley for photographs. The Bill is removed before the procession and the Bill Head is presented to the Jarl at the Hop Night the following evening.

The Torches
Around 450 torches are burned for the evening procession and during the preceeding winter the Torch Boys meet twice a week to make them. They are the same as the Lerwick Up Helly Aa torches and are constructed from hessian sacks with a concrete shoulder to ensure they remain intact during the procession. The day before the SMUHA the torches are soaked in fuel to ensure they burn.

The Procession and Burning of the Galley
As there are 5 'areas' hosting the SMUHA there are different locations for the evening procession and burning of the Galley. In 2010 the procession was through Bigton with the burning at St. Ninian's Isle Ayre. In 2011 the procession was along the Sumburgh Lighthouse road with the burning at Grutness beach, in 2012 the burning was at Mail beach in Cunningsburgh, in 2013 at Hoswick beach and in 2014 at Gulberwick beach. Each of the 5 areas has a provisional procession and burning site although the differing locations require differing levels of logistical support. As each SMUHA procession and burning site is confirmed it will be posted on the smuha facebook page page. If an areas chosen site becomes unavailable the procession and burning may be moved back to a previously used site.

Participating squads muster at an appointed location at 7pm and are marshalled to receive torches for the evening procession. At 7:20pm the Jarl's Squad march up the ranks and at 7:30pm a maroon or flare signalls the start of the lighting up. The procession then moves off to the burning site (accompanied by a brass band), led by the Jarl's Squad and Galley. The Guizers sing the Up Helly Aa song during the procession.

The Evening Halls and Squad Acts
Following the procession and burning of the years galley the participating squads are invited to (currently 5) halls in turn where they each perform an act or dance routine. Entry to all the halls is by ticket only and tickets for all the halls usually sell out very quickly. The halls currenly used are: Gulberwick Hall, Cunningsburgh Hall, Sandwick Social Club, Bigton Hall and the Ness Boating Club. Squads perform in each of the halls in rotation into the early hours of the following day.
The Up Helly-Aa Song

From grand old Viking centuries Up-Helly-A' has come,
Then light the torch and form the march, and sound the rolling drum:
And wake the mighty memories of heroes that are dumb;
The waves are rolling on.

Grand old Vikings ruled upon the ocean vast,
Their brave battle-songs still thunder on the blast;
Their wild war-cry comes a-ringing from the past;
We answer it "A-oi"!
Roll their glory down the ages,
Sons of warriors and sages,
When the fight for Freedom rages,
Be bold and strong as they!

Of yore, our firey fathers sped upon the Viking Path;
Of yore, their dreaded dragons braved the ocean in its wrath;
And we, their sons, are reaping now their glory's aftermath;
The waves are rolling on.


In distant lands, their raven-flag flew like a blazing star;
And foreign foemen, trembling, heard their battle-cry afar;
And they thundered o'er the quaking earth, those mighty men of war;
The waves are rolling on.

Old postcard depicting Lerwick Up
Helly Aa, circa 1906.
The Galley Song

Floats the ravan banner o'er us,
Round our Dragon Ship we stand,
Voices joined in gladsome chorus,
Raised aloft the flaming brand.

Every guizer has a duty
When he joins the festive throng
Honour, freedom, love and beauty
In the feast, the dance, the song.

Worthy sons of Vikings make us,
Truth be our encircling fire
Shadowy visions backward take us
To the Sea-King's fun'ral pyre.

Bonds of Brotherhood inherit,
O'er strife the curtain draw;
Let our actions breathe the spirit
Of our grand Up-Helly-A'.

Written by John Nicolson, to the tune of an old Norwegian folk song.

The Norseman's Home

The Norseman's home in days gone by, was on the rolling sea,
And there his pennon did defy, the foe of Normandy.
Then let us ne'er forget the race, who bravely fought and died,
Who never filled a craven's grave, but ruled the foaming tide.

For noble spiprits bold and free, too narrow was their land!
They rov'd the wide expansive sea, and quelled the Norman band.
Then let us all in harmony, give honour to the brave,
The noble, hardy, Northern men, who ruled the stormy wave.

Words and Music Norse Traditional, Arranged by Ronnie Mathewson
On distant seas, their dragon-prows went gleaming outward bound,
The storm-clouds were their banners, and their music ocean's sound;
And we, their sons, go sailing still the wide earth round and round;
The waves are rolling on.


No more Thor's lurid Hammer flames against the northern sky;
No more from Odin's shining halls the dark valkyrior fly;
Before the Light the heathen Night went slowly rolling by;
The waves are rolling on.


We are the sons of mightly sires, whose souls were staunch and strong;
We sweep upon our serried foes, the hosts of Hate and Wrong;
The glory of a grander Age has fired our battle-song;
The waves are rolling on.


Our galley is the People's Right, the dragon of the free;
The Right that rising in its might, brings tyrants to their knee;
The flag that flies above us is the Love of Liberty;
The waves are rolling on.

Words by J. J. Haldane Burgess, music by Thomas Manson
Up Helly Aa Songs

There are three songs most commonly associated with Up Helly Aa. The words of these are below. However all the Jarl Squads usually sing an abridged version of the Up Helly Aa song and the Galley song - the words of which are shown below in italics:

From grand old Viking centuries Up-Helly-A' has come
Then light the torch and form the march, and sound the rolling drum
And wake the mighty memories of heroes that are dumb
The waves are rolling on

Grand old Vikings ships ruled upon the ocean vast
Their brave battle-songs still thunder on the blast
Their wild war-cry comes a-ringing from the past
We answer it "A-oi"

Roll their glory down the ages
Sons of warriors and sages
When the fight for Freedom rages
Be bold and strong as they

Floats the ravan banner o'er us
Round our Dragon Ship we stand
Voices joined in gladsome chorus
Raised aloft the flaming brand

Voices joined in gladsome chorus
Raised aloft the flaming brand

Every guizer has a duty
When he joins the festive throng
Honour, freedom, love and beauty
In the feast, the dance, the song.

Honour, freedom, love and beauty, beauty
In the feast, the dance, the song.
The Formation of SMUHA
The South Mainland Up Helly Aa is the most recent Up Helly Aa festival to be celebrated in Shetland with the inaugural year in 2010. The subject of a South Mainland festival had been debated back and forth for many years and came close to fruition in the late 1990's but didnt quite made it off the ground. In 2009 however, discussions took a big step forward when it was announced in the 'Shetland Times' that a public meeting was organised for 22nd February 2009 to guage public interest in such an event. A fair number of folk turned up, so a steering group was formed to see if it was feasible. The original idea was to have just one hall, and perhaps four or five squads.

Interest far exceeded expectations however, and representatives from over twenty squads turned up, meaning more halls were needed. Four halls were then allocated – Bigton, Gulberwick, the Ness Boating Club and the Sandwick Social Club, but such was the demand for tickets that they all sold out very quickly - the Sandwick Social Club in just 2 hours. Cunningsburgh Hall was therefore added to try and accomodate as many folk as possible and this too sold out very quickly.

The inagural SMUHA committee had invaluable help and assistance from the Lerwick and Delting Up Helly Aa Committees to organise the 2010 event from scratch. This included organising the halls, making the galley and trailer, making torches, setting out the procession route and burning site, finding marshals, producing and printing programmes and dealing with a host of health and safety regulations. The committee had monthly meetings during the year, as well as extra fund-raising sessions, which became a weekly meeting closer to the event.
A Short History of Up Helly Aa
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:

“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 Lerwick 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. ...
Donors of £10 will be sent to the Gilbert Bain Hospital
Donors of £5 will be offered the Chairmanship of Lerwick Harbour Trust.
Donors of 12/6 will be regarded with suspicion.
Donors of a lovely white shillin - der nae wird aboot dat.”

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 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.

With the formation of SMUHA there are now 12 Up Helly Aa Festivals held in Shetland during the first 3 months of each year. Those outwith Lerwick (usually referred to as 'country Up Helly Aa's'), are smaller but they are nevertheless spectacular. The only Up Helly Aa date set in stone is Lerwick – the others may not happen each year and the dates may vary - but the usual dates for all the festivals (in the order they occur), are shown below:

Scalloway Fire Festival – Second Friday of January
Lerwick Senior Up Helly Aa – Last Tuesday of January
Lerwick Junior Up Helly Aa – Last Tuesday of January
Nesting & Girlsta Up Helly Aa - 10 days after Lerwick
Uyeasound Up Helly Aa – Second Friday of February
Northmavine Up Helly Aa – Third Friday of February
Bressay Up Helly Aa – Last Friday of February
Cullivoe Up Helly Aa – Last Friday of February
Norwick Up-Helly-Aa - Last Saturday of February
South Mainland Up Helly Aa – Second Friday of March
Walls Junior Up Helly Aa - Second Saturday of March
Delting Up Helly Aa – Third Friday of March
see also the
Up Helly aa facebook page
Original "Tar Barrel" ban notice, dated 12 December 1874, now at Shetland Museum.
1907 Lerwick Guizer Jarl H.J. Anderson.
1908 Lerwick Galley.
1912 Uyeasound Galley with Jarl and squad Ancient Picts. Jarl Johnny Sutherland at left.
1912 Lerwick Bill.
1907 Scalloway Bill.
1982 Lerwick Collecting Sheet.
1909 Lerwick Jarls Squad.
1930 Bressay Guizer Jarl Charles Johnson.
1957 Cullivoe Galley 'Nornagest'.
1930 Bressay Jarls Squad and Galley.
2011 SMUHA
2010 SMUHA
Contact SMUHA
2012 SMUHA
2013 SMUHA
2014 SMUHA
2015 SMUHA
2016 SMUHA
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