IT’S Bressay’s big day for a burning, and Guizer Jarl Ross Manson may be representing a long lost relative at this year’s event.
Ross, a thoroughbred Shark, has served his ten years on the Bressay Up Helly Aa committee and has now donned the kirtle and helmet of jarl after a decade split between guizing in the jarl’s squad and stewarding at the procession.
There will be around 280 revellers at the Bressay Hall later on but such is the relaxed nature of the event, even the number of participating squads was unclear when Shetland News spoke to Ross on Wednesday.
That easy-going attitude is part of the charm of the Bressay event, according to Ross, who expects about 110 torches to blaze at 8pm light up at the hall.
“I am looking forward to the big day. It has been a long build up over the course of the year and I have been a few years on the committee,” he said.
“It is all the culmination of a lot of hard work and the first time that everyone will be together with their suits on.”
The squad will visit the hall at 10.30am and reconvene there at 9.00pm after the procession and burning.
It is a family affair for the Mansons as Ross’s dad Peter, his brother Magnus and Magnus’s five-year-old Adam will be stepping out in the squad. It will be something otherworldly for Adam who has been brought up in Weybridge on the outskirts of London. Also joining them is Ross’s cousin Leighton Anderson, one of Shetland’s newly appointed youth parliamentarians.
But youngest guizer of all is Ross’s son Anders who will be doing the rounds at the tender age of thirteen-and-a-half months.
Ross is representing Sweyn Asleifsson who was a hero of the Orkney Saga and the “ultimate Viking”, plundering and raiding far afield. Sweyn was also an influential figure and warmly welcomed at the courts of King Malcolm and King David. His depredations led him to sack Dublin, but he met his end in a pit dug by the locals to trap the raiders.
His grandson Gunni Andresson was allegedly the first chief of the Caithness clan Gunn, which is linked to the Manson family.
Ross’s galley which will be burned at Voeside is an old fourareen modified with dragon head and tail. She is named Fulla who was one of the goddess Freya’s handmaidens and whose name chimes happily with Fullaburn, Ross’s Bressay residence.
Much detail has gone into the squad’s costumes. The kirtles were made by the ‘kirtle weemin’ Christine Sinclair and Carole Flaws from a green-blue and silver weave from Jamiesons of Shetland.
Each has a border emblazoned with the name of Sweyn Asleifsson spelled in runes. There are braids in matching colours by Roisin McAtamney of Shetland College textile department.
On top of the kirtle is a charcoal cloak with silver runes along the edge. The wool for these was supplied by Laurence Odie of Hoswick. The bairns’ hooded cloaks differ slightly in construction from the adult garments.
The guizers have black breeks, black hide boots and black leather arm bands. The shields are a dark blue with a stylized chrome design based on the back of the Bressay stone. The front of that famous stone already provided inspiration for the shields of Stanley Manson’s Lerwick squad in 2005 and Neil Smith’s Bressay squad in 2010.
Art Machine did the shield graphics, which were lacquered and finished with edging after being transferred.
The guizers are armed with a small steel bladed axe and runes have been burned onto the handle with a hot knife. Helmets are of polished steel with a generic pressed Celtic design and Ross’s, as is the tradition, sports some black feathered wings.
This story will be updated with new photos throughout the day.