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Community / Jarl steeped in family tradition takes the reins in Northmavine

AS AN army of sheepskin clad Viking warriors descend upon Northmavine today (Friday) for the annual Up Helly Aa celebrations, guizer jarl Alan Doull is relieved the big day is finally here, writes Alex Purbrick.

Leading a squad of 47 Vikings, Alan is upholding a strong family tradition of being a guizer jarl.

His dad Addie was jarl in 1996, uncle Kenny in 1981, brother Neil in 2007 and cousin Liam in 2017, and seeing as they didn’t adopt a Viking persona, Alan has decided to continue the custom in using his own name as jarl.

All of his family are in the squad as well as his younger sister Anne, who as the only female adult is leading the nine girls who are Alan’s two daughters plus nieces.

Alan explained: “The lasses got the option of being princesses or warriors. They didn’t want helmets but opted instead for a fancy leather head piece as well as axes and shields. So really, they’re princess warriors!”

There are also two nephews, the youngest being four years old, and all are “excited about being in the jarl squad”.

Family roots are important to Alan, and although he now lives in Aith on the West Mainland, he was born and bred in Islesburgh, Sullom, where his family have lived since 1970.

The costume and galley are all inspired from threads of his life and the land upon which he was raised. The shield design is from a Shetland ram’s head drawn by Davie Mouat, a Shetlander now living in New Zealand, and is a bold, tribal image of one of the family rams, carved into polished stainless steel and bolted onto the shield.

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The eagle axe head and belt buckles are a homage to the Pictish eagle stone found on the Islesburgh croft in the 1950s, a 3,000 year old carving from a time when eagles soared over Shetland’s skies.

Northmavine jarl Alan Doull (second from left) with brothers Neil (left) and Ewan, and sister Anne. Photo: Shetland News

The family home of Islesburgh is also included in the bill head, displayed on the Hillswick waterfront next to the wildlife sanctuary and features an old Viking settlement painted by Nesting artist Tracey Cassidy.

The kirtles are made from earth coloured tweed from the Sandness mill and sewn together by Lorna Erikson from Collafirth.

A grateful Alan is full of admiration. “She had to make the whole squad’s kirtles in a fortnight due to a delay in the delivery of the material and she’s made them to a very high standard,” he said.

This year’s Northmavine guizer jarl Alan Doull. Photo: Shetland News

Working as an engineer deckhand with marine service company Aquaship, Alan has travelled to various locations, one of which was Iceland where he worked during the Covid pandemic on a boat, resulting in him naming the galley Skal from the Icelandic word meaning ‘cheers’.

“A tip o’ the hat to the Icelanders I met there,” as Alan says.

The jarl squad visited the Urafirth Primary School in the morning. Photo: Shetland News

There is a lot of work involved in preparing for Up Helly Aa and making sure everything is finished in time. The sheepskin cloaks only arrived in late January and Alan expressed how “it’s all been tight” getting everything finished.

“My head is buzzing with it all and I’m still waking up at 4am thinking of things and ideas so that’s keeping me busy but once the day comes it flies by and you enjoy every minute,” he said.

Following breakfast at the Sullom Hall, the jarl squad will visit the primary schools in Urafirth, Ollaberry and North Roe, with lunch at the Eshaness café and a photoshoot at the Hillswick waterfront at 3pm before the torchlit procession begins at 7.30pm.

Twelve squads including the jarl squad will perform acts throughout the night at the local halls in Hillswick, Sullom and Ollaberry.


Today’s Up Helly Aa celebrations in Uyeasound have been postponed until next year due to a family bereavement.

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