29th January 2015

Shetlanders Ready for Up Helly Aa Fire Festival

The final preparations are under way for the traditional Viking fire festival of Up Hella Aa which takes place on the final Tuesday of January each year in the island's capital of Lerwick. The spectacular event recognises the Viking roots of the islands and with day long celebrations culminating in the setting on fire of a replica Viking galley. The festival attracts hundreds of spectators from all around the globe.

Up Helly Aa has been taking place since the 1880's, the only exceptions being during the two World Wars and to commemorate the death of Queen Victoria. The festival has also been postponed due to an outbreak of influenza (1900) and to honour the deaths of both King George V and Winston Churchill (1936 and 1965 respectively). The celebrations begin early in the day when the Viking group for the day, the Jarl Squad dressed in full battle armour, who are led by their chief, Guizer Jarl, begin to march through the town from half past eight in the morning. They march through the town singing the traditional songs, pausing for a photo shot at Bressay Ferry Terminal, then on to the Town Hall for a civic reception. After this the Jarl Squad will visit the two schools, the hospital and the Shetland Museum. By early evening the colourful processions start.

Firstly their will be a Junior Procession of ‘Vikings' marching along the procession route and later at around seven thirty a maroon will signal the time to light up the 900 torches of the Senior Procession. This spectacle will march along the route up to the burning site where the galley will be set alight. This is the followed by a huge party in the festival halls. Not surprisingly the following day is a national holiday giving time for both spectators and participants to recover.