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Community / The waiting game is finally over as SMUHA gets underway

Jarl Jamie Laurenson on board his galley outside Cunningsburgh Primary School on Friday morning. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

IT IS fair to say that finally leading his squad of male and female Vikings through the communities of Shetland’s South Mainland has been a long haul for guizer jarl Jamie Laurenson.

For the South Mainland Up Helly Aa (SMUHA), the building contractor from Bigton is known as Einar Hjaltlanderingur – Einar the Shetlander – one of the very few Shetland born and bred Vikings whose lineage can be traced right through to today in Iceland.

“The ‘born and bred’ in Shetland was the significant bit for me,” Einar smiles.

Like so many other social events, the 2020 SMUHA was cancelled just days before it was due to take place following NHS Shetland advice on the rapidly spreading Covid-19 virus.

It was one of just two Up Helly Aas – Delting the other – that had their 2020 events called off.

At Cunningsburgh school.

Since then, it has been three years of stop and go with the big day now eventually underway. There were some rumours this week that after five days of winter disruption the fire festival would not go ahead but those were quashed in a social media post by the organisers.

Jarl Jamie Laurenson in conversation with pupils at Sound Primary School. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

“It’s been a waiting game,” Jamie reflects on the three years he had to wait for the big day, with no-one knowing at the time whether a 2021 or 2022 event could take place.

“We were disappointed at the time, and like everyone we didn’t know what we were facing and what the outcome was going to be, so we did what we had to do and cancelled the event,” the 65-year-old father of three grown-up children adds.

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“We didn’t know when we cancelled if we could go one year later. We then didn’t know if we would be able to go the following year.

“So, the beard had to be kept growing, and it has now been ready to go for three years but has been trimmed a few times.”

He says everybody in his 42-strong squad has helped to keep the momentum going after the initial build-up three years ago.

“We had already gelled as a squad and it wasn’t that difficult to get together again, and we are back on track,” he says when catching up with Shetland News a few days ahead of Shetland’s youngest fire festival, adding that everybody was really looking forward to finally having the long anticipated great day out in and with the South Mainland community.

For Jamie SMUHA is very much a familiar affair. Joining him in his squad are his wife Myleen, his children Mark, Alison and Claire with their partners as well as his four grandchildren Sina (10), Lisbet (7), Kieran (11) and one-year-old Callum.

Numbers are further boosted by his brother and his family as well as close neighbours and, of course, the members of his squad.

“We are about a 50/50 mixture of men and women. It’s not to make a point but it is inclusive, and we are very much family oriented,” Jamie explains.

Following a busy schedule of social visits to schools and care homes in the south end, around 500 guizers will gather in Bigton for the torch-lit procession and burning of the galley at the St Ninian’s Isle beach.

Lighting up is at 7.30pm, with the guizers then due to head out around local halls at night. For those unable to make it, Promote Shetland will be livestreaming the procession online.

The SMUHA jarl squad. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media


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