IT’S ONLY Thursday but Cullivoe Up Helly Aa is well under way as Yell’s annual fire festival – now in its 60th year – is celebrated as a four day event.
This year’s guizer jarl Mark Lawson said he felt particularly “honoured” having been asked to lead the event after having moved to Yell as recent as 2002.
“For me it is a massive honour having moved here just 14 years ago and seeing how important the festival is for our island,” he said.
“The fact that the festival covers the whole of Yell and not just Cullivoe is a really important aspect.”
Mark’s four sons and three daughters are all participating in the festival, making this year’s Cullivoe jarl’s squad with 15 Vikings and five princesses one of the largest there has been.
The head teacher of the Mid Yell junior high school has chosen to portray Thorfinn Raven Feeder, a character from the Norse saga who, like him, was born on mainland Scotland and settled in the Northern Isles in later life.
“Long before I ever imagined living in Shetland, Thorfinn was the first of the Norse Jarls I encountered, and the story of the man who controlled Orkney, Shetland, the Hebrides, Caithness and Sutherland at the height of his power has always stayed with me,” the 45-year-old jarl said.
Thorfinn also converted to Christianity, and is said to have travelled on pilgrimage to Rome to meet the Pope.
“His links to Scotland and Christianity – plus the fact that he settled later in life in the Norðreyjar (Northern Isles) – make him the jarl I always wanted to be,” Mark continued, though this is where the similarities end as the Cullivoe jarl has so far not been to Rome and has also not met the Pope yet.
Instead he has already completed his first round of visits through the Yell community with visits to the Burravoe hall to meet some of the older residents there, the Burravoe and Mid Yell schools as well as the Isleshavn care centre in Mid Yell.
Friday will be spent in Cullivoe where the jarl squad meet the local community in the hall as well as the primary school, before around 150 guizers in 12 different squads gather at the Cullivoe hall for a 7.30pm start of the torch-lit procession to the galley burning site at the local marina.
Following a long night of merrymaking, the party continues in Burravoe the next day where the local hall committee puts on a fantastic lunch for the jarl’s squad followed by the hop concert and dance in the Cullivoe hall.
The festival weekend comes to an end on Sunday night with a charity head shaving in the Cullivoe hall with proceeds going to the Meningitis Research Foundation and local schools.
Mark said he was extremely grateful to Shetland Islands Council for having – unintentionally – pencilled in an occasional holiday for Monday, which gives him an extra 24 hours to recover from his Viking marathon before going back to school on Tuesday.
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