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Community / Bressay Up Helly Aa committee explains date change

A photo from the 2023 Bressay procession. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

THE BRESSAY Up Helly Aa committee has sought to explain why it has moved the date for its 2024 event amid criticism from some in the community.

While it has been held on the last Friday of February, next year’s fire festival will take place on Friday 1 March.

But the decision – revealed in a Facebook post – did not sit well with some members of the community, with the apparent lack of consultation of a key factor.

The committee has since returned to social media to apologise for the way the change of date was announced.

It said it had a follow-up meeting at which the “large majority” of members decided to continue with the date change.

The committee said that by moving the festival forward one week it would allow the jarl squad to visit Bressay children in their schools in Lerwick, which would be closed for a long weekend on the usual Up Helly Aa date.

“We appreciate that there are concerns from within the isle by taking the jarl squad out of Bressay, however, we are doing this to visit the Bressay bairns as we no longer have a local primary school within the isle,” it said.

The committee added that previous Lerwick visits in 2015 and 2020 resulted in “greater excitement and engagement from younger ones”.

It confirmed that the plan is to move the Bressay hall visit from morning to afternoon.

“By moving the hall visit to the afternoon, the Bressay bairns will still have the opportunity to visit the jarl squad with their families after school,” the committee wrote.

It continued: “We appreciate that some folk were better enabled to attend with the school holiday, it was felt on balance that not all were able to take advantage of this day and that there would be more benefit in the long run to attend Bressay bairns at Lerwick schools.”

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The committee added that there will be time scheduled during the morning for visits in Bressay, to provide local residents the “first opportunity to see the jarl squad”.

“We consider that moving the date of the festival to a date when no other Up Helly Aa is scheduled allows Bressay residents with ties to other festivals to attend both, and vice versa,” the committee added.

Meanwhile it said the committee is “saddened” by sentiment suggesting it is turning its back on the island.

Members are also hoping that the change will assist Bressay Up Helly Aa in generating further interest and maintaining its attendance.

The committee concluded: “This is Bressay Up Helly Aa, the make up of the committee are all current or former residents with ties and genuine affection for the island, we want to make a success of the event and keep it sustainable.”

The Bressay Up Helly Aa was first held in the 1930s and following a break it returned in 1962.

The Cullivoe Up Helly Aa has been held on the same day, while Norwick also takes places the same weekend.

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