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Community / Weekend of three Up Helly Aas kicks off in Cullivoe

The Cullivoe jarl squad from 2020.

Celebrations are already underway (Thursday) at this year’s Cullivoe Up Helly Aa, the first of three fire festivals this weekend.

Highland kye feature large in the outfits of this year’s Cullivoe jarl squad.

Craig Dickie and his 18-strong squad are sporting shields with the heads of the shaggy cattle, a herd of which Craig is the proud owner of.

While the horns of Craig’s brass motif point downwards, in the style of his bull, Chieftain of Tordarroch, the rest of the guizers’ shields have cow head transfers with upturned horns.

Craig’s three daughters Jessica, 14, Monica, 11 and Rosie, 10, are all “hyper” about the prospect of taking part in this year’s festival and their shields have calf heads with short horns.

Craig’s father Hubert, who was guizer jarl in 1977 and brother Campbell, guizer jarl in 2011, are also in the squad along with Craig’s brother in law Stuart, who is travelling from Westport in Ireland with his wife Dot for the big occasion.

The rest of the squad rig-out includes a black kirtle, brown fur cloaks, copper scale armour breast plates and copper banded helmets for the Vikings – Craig’s helmet is of slightly different style.

Talented squad member Alan Jamieson from Vidlin made the metal parts for the helmets and breastplates.

Guizer Jarl Craig Dickie. Photo: Garry Sandison

The family connection continues with the theme for the squad: Craig’s wife Rebecca is from Helmsdale and so the galley is called Hjalmundal, the Norse name for the Highland village.

Craig, who is a plant operator and quarrying contractor by day, is himself portraying hero of the Orkneyinga saga Sweyn Asleifsson who was also victorious in a battle at Helmsdale.

Cullivoe is the first of three Up Helly Aas this weekend, with Bressay on Friday and Norwick on Saturday.

The Cullivoe jarl’s squad’s helly begins today with visits to the Burravoe hall and school and the Mid Yell school and care centre before a visit to Anne Robertson at da Herra followed by partaking at the Rum Room in North a Voe before heading back to the Cullivoe hall.

Friday’s tour begins with the guizers getting rigged at the hall and breakfasting, the meal prepared by “resident gourmet chefs” Michael Henderson and Andrew Nisbet. After that the squad begins its duties, accompanying the galley to Moarfield Garage to meet the school and pre-school bairns.

They then escort the galley full of bairns to Cullivoe Primary School where there will be tea and biscuits and photographs taken with the bairns.

The squad then visits residents of Cullivoe before returning to the school for dinner with the bairns.

The 130 guizers in 13 squads will gather at Cullivoe Hall for lighting up and to start the procession sharp at 7.30pm. The procession leaves the hall bound for the marina where it is intended Hjalmundal will be towed off and burned. If there is too much of an ebb, she will be set fire on the shoormal instead.

Immediately following the procession squad performances will begin in both the hall and school. Following the acts there will be a dance with music from the James Leask Band.

Craig and Rebecca and their three daughters Monica, Rosie and Jessica.

Craig said that this year the Cullivoe fire festival owes a huge thanks to the South Mainland Up Helly Aa committee who supplied plans for the galley.

This year’s vessel has been built out of properly boarded plywood planks instead of the more usual painted ply sheets to make the boat more authentic and pleasing.

“A few fact-finding missions were made to Cunningsburgh, with the SMUHA team also welcomed on a return visit to the Cullivoe Galley Shed.

“A good relationship has now been forged between these two festivals at opposing ends of Shetland,” said Craig.