Bressay Up Helly Aa

28th February 2020 (Last Friday of February)

The tradition of Up Helly Aa has been alive in Bressay since the early 1930s, although the festival has not run annually since then.
The first festival was held in 1930, and only a few details are known about it: the first galley was constructed at the [fish processing] factory, and consisted of a painted Shetland Model, with a tail and head added.

Festivals were held for the following four years, during which time it is thought the galley was made at least once in a barn at Hoversta, then in the Cross Shed at the Glebe Steading.

In 1933, according to the Shetland News, the galley was only one of four ships which stood at the shop. There was "Odin" the big galley (built in Lerwick, accommodation being provided by Mr James Gray, Lerwick.) The other ships were smaller galleys "Tyr" and "Diana" and there was also a beautiful barque "Norseman" representing a real ship of Shetland connection from the past.

In 1934 the galley was named "Gerda" and was built by James Deyell and Magnus Tulloch, the head and tail being made by Charles Johnson.
The format of the Bill was much as it is today. Humorous and good natured text and verse directed at those of the island who could, hopefully, be relied upon to take it all in good spirit. We have been told that Dodie Linklater of Beosetter painted or drew at least one of the Bill Headings.

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In 1934 the Bill was painted by Robert Manson and Laurence Deyell. It has been suggested that Willie and Geordie Smith of Gunnista may have had a bit to do with the writing of the Bill. The Bill was set in the early morning at the Shop Corner, and as today was eagerly read by all who paid a visit to the Shop.
The Procession lit up and started out from the Tae Well (Roadside) and later from the Eunsons. It consisted of about 70-90 people including women. All walked in single file along past the Shop, Hall and School. The burning of the galley took place North-by the Old Manse on a vacant piece of ground loaned from Hoversta Farm.

In 1933 the burning took place at Hunchiebanks.

About seven or eight squads entertained at the hall, and as today their acts could be colourful costumes, dances or some local skit. Dancing usually went on until around 6am. Teas were provided in the hall by the Ladies Committee.

Musicians were usually Harry Tulloch, Geordie Sutherland, Geordie Tulloch and James John Tulloch who would have been paid perhaps 10/ for their night’s entertainment.

The cost of a ticket to Bressay Up Helly Aa in the 1930's would have been in the regions of 2/6.

There were no further festivals after 1934 as the hall which at that time was a Kirk Hall was not allowed to be used for the purpose.

However, the festival was re-established in 1962, after a public meeting was held the pervious year to gauge interest. Bressay Up Helly Aa has been held annually ever since.

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