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Community / The wait is over: Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa is back

Guizer jarl Neil Moncrieff is leading his squad of Vikings around town in what is an Up Helly Aa for the history books

Guizer jarl Neil Moncrieff outside the Lerwick Legion on Tuesday morning. Photos: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

IT HAS been a long wait for this moment – the return of Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa.

But it has been an even longer wait for guizer jarl Neil Moncrieff, who has had to bide his 15 years on the committee – and add on an extra two after Covid postponements – before his big day.

The 44-year-old, who works for Shetland Recreational Trust, is leading a squad around town in the isles’ showpiece fire festival.

This year’s Up Helly Aa also marks the first time women are taking part as guizers in squads, while there will be nearly 30 girls in this evening’s Junior Up Helly Aa procession.

Moncrieff was due to lead the fire festival in 2021, but Covid rules postponed the last two years.

But the jarl squad certainly made up for it when they made their entrance into the public limelight shortly after 8am this morning (Tuesday) as they left the Islesburgh Community Centre, bellies full of breakfast.

The bill was placed at the Market Cross overnight. Photo: Jim Mullay

The squad made their way towards the Toll Clock Shopping Centre accompanied by pipe bands in what was rather drab wintry weather.

Moncrieff’s men are set to follow the usual itinerary, including a stop-off at the British Legion for venue members and family before making their way down to the Market Cross for a sing-song in front of the bill.

The guizer jarl, who is from Lerwick, was elected to the committee in October 2006.

He said he was “very proud and excited” to take his turn to lead Up Helly Aa.

Guizer jarl leading his squad from Islesburgh this morning. Photo: Shetland News

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Highlighting the time and effort that goes into an Up Helly Aa jarl squad, Moncrieff explained that it was back around 2016/17 when the squad suit started being designed.

With his squad finalised in 2007/8, well before the decision was made last year allow women to participate in Up Helly Aa, there are no females in the jarl squad.

But Moncrieff said: “I’m sure in the future there will be participation in the jarl squad, and that’s something we all look forward to.”

The jarl said Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa is “massive” for the town and Shetland as a whole, especially with the tourist interest – with available accommodation as rare as hen’s teeth.

Jarl Moncrieff is a dog lover. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Outside of Up Helly Aa Moncrieff has a passion for football – particularly Aberdeen FC – and has travelled the world in the Tartan Army supporting Scotland.

His squad have a busy day ahead, with official photos taken near the Bressay ferry terminal later this morning and a stop-off at the museum in the afternoon.

Temperatures will raise a notch from 7.30pm when the swarms of guizers  – nearly 1,000 – will light their torches for the spectacular procession around the King George V play park.

It, of course, does not stop there, with the near-50 squads set to dance and drink the night away through to 8am as they tour the town’s halls.

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