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Cullivoe celebrating 60th UHA anniversary

An image from the 1973 UHA - when it was still held in the old Cullivoe Hall, which now serves as the village's galley shed.

A DINNER dance is being held in the Cullivoe Hall this weekend to celebrate 60 years of Yell’s only Up Helly Aa festival.

A new exhibition is being shown for the first time, and speeches will be given – followed by a night of dancing to Loveshack.

Cullivoe Up Helly Aa can trace its origins back to 1956 when an old boat was burned in Sellafirth as part of a children’s event.

The following year saw more adults get involved – with a Guizer Jarl appointed, and torches and squads prepared – to entertain the audience in the Sellafirth Hall. The first galley – the Nornagest – was burned following the procession, marking the beginning of a tradition.

The Cullivoe Primary School class of 1986.

In 1958 the festival moved to Cullivoe for the first time. The North Yell Badminton Club took responsibility for the running of Up Helly Aa until September 1960, when an Up Helly Aa committee was formally established.

Since then the event has gone from strength to strength. A second venue for squads was added in 1982 – when the Cullivoe Primary School was used to prevent overcrowding of the local hall. As this was a success, the practice continues today.

A new Cullivoe Public Hall was built in time to host the 1986 festival, and the old hall was taken on by the Up Helly Aa committee and converted into the Galley Shed.

In more recent years the festival has expanded in size to take in the entire island of Yell. It has also expanded in duration – beginning on the last Thursday in February every year, and lasting until the Monday.

This weekend will be celebrating what makes Cullivoe Up Helly Aa unique, compared to Shetland’s many other fire festivals.

In the hall, the Jarl Squad watch the performing squads from the stage in order to judge the various follies being depicted on the hall floor. This is said to be similar to the viking courts of old, where kings would have local events and disagreements re-enacted before them – in order to pass sentence.

The 1958 galley.

The involvement of the local primary school in the festival is also unique amongst Shetland’s Up Helly Aas.  Since 1970, Cullivoe Primary School pupils have entered their own squad – with the children performing their act on the hall floor alongside other guizers.

Many Guizer Jarls have had their first experience of Up Helly Aa as part of this long running school squad.

Mid Yell Junior High School head teacher Mark Lawson – who had the honour of being Guizer Jarl in the 60th anniversary year – says that the festival has come a long way since 1957.

“Up Helly Aa in Cullivoe has improved and expanded so much over the years that photographs of the early festivals are almost unrecognisable. The one thing that is the same is the community spirit, and that’s what makes Up Helly Aa here so special for me.

“Everyone is involved in some way, everyone plays a part in order for it to go ahead as it does – and I think that we can be very proud of what’s been achieved over the last 60 years.”

A new Cullivoe Up Helly Aa exhibition will also be unveiled for the first time at the dinner dance – charting the history of the festival in more detail.

Thanks to funding from the Yell Community Council, this exhibition will be shown in the Cullivoe Galley Shed through the summer months – In order to encourage more tourism in the area.

  • Tickets for the 60th Anniversary dinner dance – which starts at 7pm on Saturday 18 November – are available from local shops, costing £25 for the entire evening. (£10 for under 18’s)
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