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Community / Three cheers as jarl Thorir Hund leads Bressay Up Helly Aa celebrations

Bressay jarl Ian Harness with his burning galley on Friday evening. All photos: Malcolm Younger /Millgaet Media

JARL Ian Harkness is geared up and ready to celebrate Bressay Up Helly Aa after waiting an extra two years because of Covid.

He said it has been “all go up until the last moment”, but they’re ready for the big day: “I’m really excited now; it’s been a stressful week but we’ve gotten through it.”

Ian added: “You would think you have loads of time to do things, but even with the two-year delay we’ve only picked things up in the last few months.”

The jarl squad began their day with breakfast at the Speldiburn Café, followed by visiting the Bressay Hall, the Mail Shop and ferry terminal, before heading to the Maryfield for lunch.

Ian was nominated to be jarl in 2010, and has been involved in Bressay Up Helly Aa since.

His father Robert Harkness was jarl in 2001, while his stepfather Brian Anderson led the festival in 2000. “I got involved around the time it was my uncle Neil Smith’s year back in 2010, and have been in the committee ever since.”

He is taking the name Thorir Hund, saying that his story “shone out to him”. He was inspired by the way Hund handled his enemies.

Thorir Hund was one of the great Viking chiefs of Hålogaland, who opposed King Olaf II. Hund was born at the beginning of the Christian era in Norway and was a devout pagan. He didn’t like that King Olaf was trying to Christianise the country.

But there was a personal grudge involved too, as one of the king’s reeves, Asmundr Grànkelsson, murdered his nephew. Hund avenged his nephew, but was ordered to pay a hefty fine by King Olaf, adding to his hatred for the royal.

In 1030, Hund and his men led a rallying charge against the king in the Battle of Stiklestad, and it’s said that Hund dealt the lethal blow – murdering the king with the same spearhead that had earlier been used to slay his nephew.

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As for his galley, he has taken inspiration from his daughter’s name: Ewolram, which is her name backwards. His jarl squad consists of 21 adults, three boys and three Viking princesses.

Bressay Up Helly Aa has been going since 1930, but it hasn’t been held every year since. It ran until 1934, and then stopped until 1962. It’s taken place every year since then, with the hall acting as the only venue.

Ian has been looking forward to the day, saying: “We are all feeling pretty good, excited to get it done.

“We’ve been in amongst it all, getting some last touch-ups on axes and shields. All my dad’s side of the family are from Inverness, and they all arrived yesterday morning, so we were doing last-minute fittings.”

Light up for the procession begins at 8pm, followed by a night of revelry and dancing in the Bressay Hall.

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