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Community / A ‘unique twist’ to the fire festival season

‘I’m a bit gutted to be honest but with the current situation here and abroad we couldn’t go ahead’

Delting jarl Dwayne Davies with his cousin David Johnson.

DELTING jarl Dwayne Davies expressed his disappointment to Alex Purbrick on Thursday evening after the decision was made by the Up Helly Aa committee to postpone the festival until 30 October due to the current coronavirus outbreak.

With 10 per cent of confirmed Scottish coronavirus cases now in Shetland and more cases expected to be verified, NHS Shetland chairman Gary Robinson advised Dwayne on Wednesday afternoon that it would not be sensible to continue with the Up Helly Aa celebrations planned for next Friday (20 March).

The South Mainland Up Helly Aa due to take place tonight (13 March) was also called off.

Thursday also saw the announcement from Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon that gatherings of more than 500 people were to be cancelled from next week in order to free up emergency services who may be required to assist in the coronavirus outbreak and to prevent the spread of the virus.

Dwayne said he and his squad are remaining positive, however, and are looking forward to celebrating the festival on 30 October.

“It gives Up Helly Aa a unique twist. Having an Up Helly Aa away from the usual season might be a good thing,” he said.

“It’ll be dark then and we couldn’t do it in the summer because of the light. The hop day is on Halloween and will be a different kind of party!”

The financial implications of the postponement are more challenging especially as 14 members of the squad were due to arrive in Shetland over the next few days from Ireland, Wales, England and mainland Scotland.

Fortunately, ten of those were due to travel by ferry and have managed to cancel and receive a refund but the remaining four who are flying have chosen to travel to Shetland arriving today and on Monday.

Dwayne said he is glad some of them are still coming to visit. “We’ll make them feel welcome as a squad and we’ll do something next week to celebrate but it won’t be public, just a small get-together of friends and family.”

Another challenge the squad faces is the possible cancellation of their visit in April to New York for the annual Tartan Day parade which they are due to participate in alongside the Lerwick and Bressay jarl squads.

Although British nationals can currently still travel to the US, 26 European countries have now been prohibited entry under a temporary restriction lasting for 30 days.

This may change, however. Dwayne said: “My guess is, it’s not going to go ahead. The New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade due to take place next week has now been cancelled, the first time in 200 years.

“I’m assuming the Tartan Day parade will be cancelled as well. That’s £150,000 worth of flights we’ve spent which is a lot of money that we might not receive reimbursement for from the airlines.

“Hopefully we’re looking to go to New York next year, all going well.”

In the meantime, Dwayne and his squad have seven months to tweak the last few pieces of work still to be done on the galley and add some spooky Halloween surprises to their plans.

His attitude is upbeat and optimistic which is reassuring in these challenging times we live in.

“Every cloud has a silver lining and at least we’re getting to have a shot at it later in the year. Hopefully by then all will be well,” he said.