By JIM TAIT
They happen in various parts of Shetland, mostly in February, and according to history are seen as a way of bidding goodbye to the dark and dismal days of winter, with a bit of colour and a drink or two thrown in.
Up to now a few parts of the isles have managed to stay clear of this kind of behaviour, apart from the odd gatecrashing of the big Lerwick bash of course, but from 2010 onwards revellers in the South Mainland could have their own chance to pay homage to the Norse Gods.
We’re talking fire festivals of course, or Up-Helly-A’s to all but those Scalloway enthusiasts. There are nine so far, but from next year South Mainland “Vikings” will probably join those from Norwick, Uyeasound, Cullivoe, Northmavine, Brae, Nesting & Girlsta, Scalloway, Lerwick and Bressay for a spot of galley blazing.
The idea has been rumbling in parts of the Ness for some time, but things have moved on somewhat in the past few weeks, with the formation of a steering group, serious proposals on the table and a date fixed for a mass meeting of potential guizers.
The festival will likely cover the entire South Mainland from Sumburgh to Gulberwick, with different areas taking a turn at supplying the Guizer Jarl and staging the procession and burning. Friday 5th March 2010 has been earmarked for the historic occasion.
Cunningsburgh man Robert Halcrow has long harboured the idea, and as current chairman of the steering group is one of those responsible for making it happen for real next year.
He said: “We had a public meeting which was attended by between 30 and 40 people, some of them quite young, which is good, and some not so young. We set up the steering group, which has been meeting once a week, and we will be bringing forward a proposal to our first mass meeting on 23rd March.
“It is proposed to have a South Mainland Up-Helly-A’, with the idea being that the procession might travel round, with the Guizer Jarl, for each area in rotation.”
The proposal is to have five areas: Gulberwick and Quarff; Cunningsburgh; Sandwick; Bigton and Levenwick; and Dunrossness.
Mr Halcrow said there would be various venues, probably two or three for the first year, which could rise depending on the interest, with the guizers’ hop normally held in a hall which was not open on the Up-Helly-A’ night itself.
“There are nine halls or clubs in the South Mainland, but we’re not anticipating using them all,” he said. “Some are more interested than others. And we wouldn’t be using two venues in the same area anyway.”
Obviously there are many rules to be ironed out, but Mr Halcrow said it was not being proposed to elect the jarl more than three years ahead. And like all the other country festivals, there will be both men and women in the squads, meaning Lerwick remains the sole male chauvinistic bastion of Vikingdom.
He added: “We’ve been speaking about this on and off for a piece of 15 years, but really it’s all just started since Christmas, or the middle of January. There’s a lot of interest and I’m very positive about the idea.”
Mr Halcrow has ruled out the idea of leading the procession himself, so who might be the first Guizer Jarl? A big name perhaps? What about a certain councillor who has been much in the news of late?
“No I think there’s more chance of him being Guy Fawkes!” said a Ness woman, adding that she preferred to remain anonymous.