Fire Festival 2013 / King for a day

Njal Christie Henry raises his axe as Danish king Swein Forkbeard. Photo Ivan Hawick

WHEN your name is Njal, straight out of that most impressive of Icelandic sagas, you should not have far to look to find a Viking name.

But that would have been too easy for Sullom Voe tugman Njal Christie Henry, who instead plumped for a Danish king to reflect the Danish blood in his family tree as he led this year’s Bressay Up Helly Aa celebrations.

Swein Forkbeard, or Swein the Dane as he was widely known, is less well known than his father or his son despite having ruled over Norway and even England briefly during his royal career.

His father Harald Bluetooth inspired the name for 21st century mobile technology, while his son Cnut was the legendary king of England who failed to hold back the waves.

There was however no holding back Swein as he led his band of 22 warriors and a two year old princess – Isla Jamieson, from Sandness – around the isle of Bressay on Friday.


Dressed in woolen kirtles from the Sandness mill, run by Isla’s dad Gary, along with copious deerskin, leather and suede, they roared so loud they could be heard across the sound in Lerwick.

The still and dry day could not have been a greater contrast to last year’s event, which saw the ferry cancelled because of the wind.

The jarl said the men were particularly proud of their shields, which bore elaborate paintings of twin serpents and runes spelling out his name and the Old Norse for: “Between hell and the deep sea”.

He may have steeped himself deep in the Norse culture for the past year, but the keen motorcyclist was enjoying his big day and looking forward to a night of burning and dancing at the Bressay hall with six squads lined up for a sell-out night.

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On Bressay they are smart enough to have two galleys. One is called Skadi after the Norse goddess of winter that is pulled around the isle.

The second is burned, and this year that is called Lollipop after Lollie Tait of Walls who kindly donated it for consignment to the flames.

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