Leith chosen as 2025 jarl at Up-Helly-A’ mass meeting

New Lerwick Up-Helly-A' committee member Ryan Leith. Click on image to enlarge.
New Lerwick Up-Helly-A' committee member Ryan Leith. Click on image to enlarge.

The latest man in line to lead the Lerwick Up-Helly A’ procession is Ryan Leith, son of the late Peter Leith who was Guizer Jarl in 1978.

Mr Leith, 37, was elected at the first mass meeting of 237 guizers at the Garrison Theatre on Tuesday, when he convincingly saw off his opponents Murray Arthur and John Fraser. He received 157 votes to Mr Arthur’s 49 and Mr Fraser’s 37 and will get his big chance in 2025.

Each of the three candidates was given a chance to make their case for election, beginning with Mr Arthur, who told how he and his family had been involved with Up-Helly-A’ for a long time. Being invited to take part in Michael Groat’s Jarl’s Squad in 2001 had been a real highlight and eye-opener to all the work that went into making the festival such a high standard every year.

Mr Arthur said he very much wanted to take part in the organisation of the festival which was an important part of Shetland’s culture. He hoped he could bring worthwhile skills to the committee in whatever role he was asked to fill.

Next to address the massed guizers was Mr Fraser, the younger brother of ex-jarl Peter Fraser who led the festival in 2005. He said Up-Helly-A’ had been a passion of his from an early age and had always wanted to serve on the committee and become a jarl since his first involvement as a fiddlebox carrier for jarl Mitnie Simpson (father of jarl-elect Rae) in 1987.

He said the camaraderie he had found through his involvement as a torch boy over the last 20 years and having been a squad member since 1991 had encouraged him to finally make a commitment to the festival. His squad had only been the Jarl’s Squad once since being formed in 1953, and he thought they deserved another go.

Finally, Mr Leith took to the floor and delivered a confident and succinct résumé, covering his Up-Helly-A’ credentials. He began at the age of five when he took part in the Jarl’s Squad with his late father, then joined his squad as a fiddlebox carrier in 1985 and become a full member in 1989.

He had been squad leader on several occasions and was involved in organising his squad every year, and his involvement as a galley builder for the last three years had encouraged him to take this next step. If elected he would perform with enthusiasm whatever role the committee required.

Rounding up with a few notes on his other extra-curricular activities with Shetland Archery Club and the Lerwick Boating Club, Mr Leith’s parting shot was a simple: “Vote Leith!”

Earlier in the evening this year’s jarl Stephen Mouat got down to business and asked for the minutes of the previous meeting to be read. Secretary Liam Summers obliged and the minutes were duly read and approved. Ivor Cluness then read through a healthy financial statement which was also approved without any matters arising.

After fixing the date for next year’s festival as Tuesday 26th January, Mr Mouat expressed his thanks to all who had contributed to what had been an “amazing” year. He then had the pleasure of introducing Mr Simpson (a third generation jarl following his father Mitnie and grandfather Tammy) as the jarl for 2010.

Next year will see one fewer hall as the Grand Hotel will not be open. The halls are: Sound Hall; Anderson High School; Lerwick Town Hall; TA Hall; Holmsgarth Ferry Terminal; Royal British Legion; Islesburgh Community Centre; Bell’s Brae School; Gilbertson Park games hall; Clickimin Centre; Sound Primary School.

A new Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ website has been created, courtesy of NB Communications, which carries a wide variety of infomation both for guizers and the public. It can be found at uphellyaa.org


Add Your Comment
  • Alun

    • October 28th, 2009 18:15

    This may be a silly question and well done to the gentleman mentioned but why is the Jarl chosen so far in advance?

  • Geoff

    • October 28th, 2009 19:51


    It’s not a silly question but there is an answer that may not seem simple to anyone not au fait with Up Helly Aa.
    Ryan Leith, who having presented himself to a mass meeting of “the guizers” (the c. 1000 people who make up the procession of squads in the Lerwick UHA procession) has now been voted onto the Lerwick UHA Committee. This Commitee is made up of 16 men “in-line” to become Guizer Jarl (hence the commitment until 2025). The members of the committee represent different squads (usually around c.45 groups of c.20-24 guizers) and they play a key part in organising and arranging the procession (Galley and Torches for the procession are made anew every year by even more volunteers) on behalf of the rest of us (the squads and musicians). The hosts and hostesses (and even more musicians and helpers) of the c.12 public halls are the mainstay of the post-procession festivities and they invite the squads along to entertain their guests on UHA night. All-in-all there is several thousand people who partake in making Lerwick Up-Helly-Aa the spectacle that so fires the imagination of the several thousand spectators who come along to enjoy what is a special community activity. Not forgetting that there are also several similar UHA’s or fire festivals being arranged across Shetland by separate Committees and groups of Host and Hostesses as I type. From Unst in the North to the newly fledged South End festival there are at least another 7 festivals in the making right now so few of the total populus of the Shetland Isles that do not have some part to play in making or enjoying this unique annual cultural undertaking.
    Get yerself here to experience it – you won’t regret it.

  • Angela

    • October 28th, 2009 22:59

    The future Jarl joins the Up Helly Aa committee (to help organise the festival each year). Each member will become Jarl in turn from the date they join, so they stay on the committee for as many years as there are members, until it is their turn to be Jarl – then they leave and a new future Jarl joins.

    I hope that makes sense!


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