The youngest of the Shetland fire festivals is the South Mainland Up Helly Aa, or SMUHA as it is locally known.

8 Mar 2024
South Mainland
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Founded after a public meeting to gauge public interest in 2009, the festival was immediately hugely popular, with the initial idea for one hall soon scrapped for the current set up of five halls located in the South Mainland areas of Gulberwick, Cunningsburgh, Sandwick, Bigton and the Ness. Each take it in turns to provide a Jarl from the area.

With help from the Lerwick and Delting Up Helly Aa Committees, SMUHA came to life, and the first festival was held in 2010. Halls were organised, the galley and trailer built, torches made, a procession route and burning site set out, marshals found, programmes printed and a whole host of health and safety regulations dealt with to create what is a much-loved festival.

Activities on the day take the same format as in other areas: the Jarl Squad visit schools and care homes in the South Mainland, although those in Lerwick are included due to the close ties many involved in the community have in the town.

In the evening a procession is held, the location dependent on the Jarl that year. The galley is led to a burning site and floated into the sea. Each village hall is then opened for squad acts and dances, and guizers are bussed from one hall to another in rotation until every squad has performed. A Hop night is held the following evening, with more music and merriment.

The festival made history in 2015 when it appointed the first ever female Jarl – for SMUHA and Up Helly Aa festivals across Shetland.

Although the newest, it is also one of the most popular festivals, with over 500 guizers taking part each year.