It’s not clear when Northmavine Up Helly Aa began, but a festival was held into the 1930s until the war years, when it was put on hold. The festival was however re-established in 1975, and has been running annually ever since.
Much like every rural Up Helly Aa or fire festival, the event is a real community effort, and from its beginnings has relied on volunteers and donations. Chrissie Manson was on the first committee to serve, in 1975, and remembers how it all began. She said: “We relied on donations to get the Up Helly Aa up and running. There were about 11 or 12 of us that put £1 a piece on the table and that’s what funded Up Helly Aa!”
She added: “‘Most of the materials used to build the galley were donated and I seem to mind the only cost for the first galley was about one and eleven pence ha’penny for the nails!”
The event began as a celebration in the district of Hillswick, but more districts have joined in as the years have passed. Today the five districts of Sullom, Hillswick, Eshaness, North Roe and Ollaberry take it in turn to be represented by a Guizer Jarl, who will be joined by around 20 or 30 friends, family and neighbours to form his squad, which includes women.
The Jarl squad spend most of a year handmaking their costumes for the night – with helmets, ornate shields and swords or axes included.
Although a galley is built and burned for the festival each year, local boat builder Willie Leask and his team also construct a ‘sailing galley’. If weather conditions are favourable on Up Helly Aa day, this galley takes to the water in the afternoon at Hillswick waterfront, with the Jarl’s Squad aboard.
In the evening, after the procession and burning, a dance is held in three of the four halls, with the fourth hosting a hop night the following evening, where more dancing and merriment takes place.