SHETLAND’S youngest fire festival, the South Mainland Up Helly Aa (SMUHA) is celebrating its 10th event when Gulberwick man Liam Mullay has the honour of leading his squad of 44 adults and three children through the communities on Friday.
The 36 year old control room operator at Sullom Voe Terminal has chosen to represent Haermund Hardaxe, one of the Vikings now famous for carving graffiti into the sandstone of the Maeshome chamber tomb, in Orkney, when raiding the Neolithic site in the 11thcentury.
Not only was Hardaxe then shipwrecked in Gulberwick Bay in a ferocious storm, a little more than a stone’s throw away from where Liam lives, but he was also a member of the crew of Kali Kolson who was portrayed by Liam’s grand uncle Johnie Johnston at the 1978 Lerwick Up Helly Aa.
“I wanted something to tie Gulberwick and our families, that’s why I have chosen Haermund Hardaxe,” he said.
“It is a great privilege to be given the chance to represent Gulberwick and SMUHA,” he said earlier this week. “The squads are well fired up and we are all really looking forward to the festival.”
When embarking on their 24-hour long spree through the southend communities on Friday, Liam’s squad is unlikely to be weighed down by their heavy gear.
Carrying helmets and shields made of carbon fibre, one could rightfully argue that contemporary Vikings are not made of the real stuff anymore, but then SMUHA already has a track record for breaking with tradition.
“Once we chose our saga then a lot of the suit ideas came from the story of Haermund Hardaxe, how he was shipwrecked and how he carved the runes in Maeshowe,” he said.
“These runes now feature on our helmets. The kirtles are dark purple and there is a lot of black leather.
“We have gone a little bit different, so all our shields and helmets are made from carbon fibre which we thought gives a really nice finish against the metal work, and they are also incredibly light.
“So there are a lot of ‘traditional’ Viking materials,” he joked, “carbon fibre, Russian grey reindeer skins and African zebrano for the axe handles.”
Liam’s big day kicks off in the morning with a hearty breakfast in the Gulberwick hall before his squad heads to Lerwick first to visit the special needs unit at the Anderson High School, followed by Sound Primary School.
Later in the morning the jarl squad heads south for visits to the Cunningsburgh and then Dunrossness primary schools before getting a lunch break at the Sumburgh Hotel. The afternoon will include visits to Sandwick School and the care centre at Levenwick.
More than 500 guizers participating in the isles’ second largest Up Helly Aa will gather at Lower Hillside, in Gulberwick, for a 7.30pm start of the procession and burning of his galley Fjaraan in Gulberwick Bay.
And, in a further break with tradition, the procession and burning will be live streamed on the Internet courtesy of Shetland Webcams.
Starting at 7pm, all this can be followed from the comfort of your sitting room, simply by following this link.
This story will be updated with new photos throughout the day.