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Community / Jarl Steinthor Petursson leads his squad for Delting Up Helly Aa after three year delay

Jarl Steinthor Petursson with his burning galley Ragnarok on Friday night.

DELTING Up Helly Aa jarl Dwayne Davies says it is “fifth time lucky” after the numerous postponements throughout the pandemic.

He said he was all set to lead his 82-person jarl’s squad through the streets of Brae in 2020 before the event was cancelled at the last minute because of the Covid-19 pandemic in a move that he called “devastating”.

“The wind was truly out of our sails. We got a call nine days before from [NHS Shetland chairperson] Gary Robinson advising us not to go ahead,” he added.

“At that point, Covid didn’t seem as serious, so we thought ‘surely not’, but then we heard South Mainland UHA had cancelled and we decided at that point not to go ahead too.”


However, given the situation at the time, Dwayne acknowledges that “it was just as well”, and said: “The pubs got closed on Up Helly Aa night, and the Monday after we went into the full lockdown.

Lighting up.

“But at the same time, we weren’t as close as SMUHA, they would have had all their food done and been ready to go but we had another week to wait.”

There were some positives though. During the photo day in 2020, the glue on the lower breastplate came apart due to poor weather, so the additional wait meant the squad could be redone.

Dwayne explained: “One man has hand punched over 2,500 punch holes in the breastplate steel, we’ve riveted everything, and they’ve been re-dyed and re-glued.”

After the initial spring 2020 call-off, the event was rescheduled to October that year, but it was postponed. And given that 2021 and 2022 also succumbed to Covid restrictions, it is now Dwayne’s fifth attempt.

Dwayne’s saga is a custom-written piece by John Tait about Harald Fairhair (his uncle) and his voyage to Wales with his sons Haki and Jacob Haraldsson (his two cousins David and Jimmy).

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The group raid Wales and meet a local archer (his father). They travel back to Shetland and visit the local watering hole (Mid Brae Inn) and the Busta Stone rises from the ground upon Jarl ‘Steinthor Petursson’s’ birth.

It’s a humorous tale which will be a particularly funny story for those who know the characters involved, Dwayne promises.

He added: “Because I was making my own character it made sense to write a custom saga that is about my family.”

Steinthor Petursson carries a sword on his back, an axe, and a small throwing axe at his side. His suit has a wine-burgundy kirtle, with brown trousers and boots. The armour is dyed brown leather with an intricate design.

Gordon Stove with grandson Hjalti, aged 2. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

Alan Balfour has been credited as having done around 250,000 punches in the leather armour. Dwayne explained: “All the design has been hand punched with a half-inch punch, thousands for every suit. It took a while!”

The shield is silver, with a decal of the two Welsh dragons facing away from each other with eight tails – a call-back to Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse ridden by Odin in Norse mythology.

At 34, Dwayne is one of the younger jarls: “My great uncle was jarl in 1981 and had Sleipnir on his shield, then in 2000 his son was jarl and had a more modern Sleipnir, so I wanted to keep it within the family theme using both Welsh and Shetland connections.”

He added the suit has been nicknamed ‘the suit of the world’, explaining: “The boots came from India, the trousers came from Germany and all our leather came from Italy. Our pig suedes are from England, rabbit pelts are from Wales.

Jarl Dwayne Davies. Photo: Malcolm Younger

“Our wood we shipped from North America to Birmingham, they were milled there and shipped to Shetland. Our axe heads were ordered through America but made in Ukraine, pewter was done in Aberdeen, and rivets and fixings came from Newcastle – but a lot of it was made in Shetland too.”

The raw materials were sent to Shetland, everything was made here. Dwayne explained: “Everything you see is tailor-made. The leather we worked, scored, marked, etched, stamped, and dyed ourselves. Everything is done from scratch aside from the axe heads and boots.”

The squad has altered children’s suits after growth spurts. Dwayne added other squad members have had weight changes, some members have had to drop out while others have been subbed in.

The delay has also seen Dwayne add in his nieces and nephew who have been born since the pandemic started: Hjalti Stove, 2, Alec Munro, 3, and Anna Munro, just one year old.

His four dogs Joey, Rex, Jess, and Lexi are participating in the morning march with him too.

The galley has been reworked, with Dwayne working on a new head and tail right up until the last minute. He said it’s a “totally new boat” that will be around 22 to 23 feet.

Perhaps highlighting the spree which is set to come, Dwayne – a drummer with a few local bands – has included the Andrew WK rock song Party Hard in the squad’s musical repertoire.

He was originally elected to the committee in 2010, meaning he has been waiting 13 years for the privilege. He has previously been in jarl’s squads in 2000 and 2005 and has been part of the galley building team ever since.

The squad began their day with a morning march at 8.15am from the Brae Hotel to the galley shed before they participated in a charity deadlift fundraiser.

A visit to the Lunnasting primary School had to be cancelled due to the road being closed after a fuel tanker came off the road on Thursday.

The day’s itinerary can be found on the Delting Up Helly Aa Facebook page here. Light up for the procession begins at 7.30pm.

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