Fire burns bright for juniors after damp day

Junior Guizer Jarl Lewis Harkness was in no doubt what being elected as leader of the Jarl’s Squad meant to him this year.

13-year-old Lewis, from Bressay said that being Jarl was a good experience as well as being good fun.

The Junior Jarl Squad’s official duties started with marching along the street in the drizzle accompanying the seniors before returning to the Anderson High School, where Lewis is a second year pupil, for a well-earned refuel of food.

After that it was back to Commercial Street, this time for a march unaccompanied by their older brethren.

A highly anticipated dinner courtesy of NorthLink, where the Jarl and his lads got the chance to re-stoke on weather beating calories, and a tour of the bridge of the Hjaltland followed.

As usual, the Junior Jarl was elected by his Secondary 1 and 2 classmates after a candidate had been put forward from each of the five or six Secondary 2 classes.

The Junior Jarl’s squad by tradition bears the handed down cloaks, shields and breastplates of previous squads but that leaves the making of the kirtles and other gear to be done by each squad.

Lewis admits playing no part in the tailoring but that “mums and grannies” had done a great job in tackling the sewing duties.

He was elected not long before Christmas which left little time for preparations. Most of the outfit was complete before Christmas with the fine details added in time for Up Helly A’.

Lewis said that he was delighted to be elected and picked many of his school friends to be in the squad, some of whom are also football team mates.

He started playing for junior Spurs at the age of six and got into the Shetland junior football team at 11 – the youngest you can play for a Shetland side – and normally plays in centre midfield.

After dinner, Lewis said: “ I would like to thank the committee for making this all happen and the mums and dads for their support and the likes of NorthLink that’s put on lunch for us today.”

Serco NorthLink Ferries service manager Jane Leask added: “It is a great privilege to host the Junior Jarl Squad on board and receive the shield. We now have an extensive collection of shields on board our ferries for passengers to view, providing a good example of NorthLink’s commitment to the Shetland community.”

The rain that had soaked guizers and spectators alike thankfully eased off before the Junior guizers’ light-up at 5.30 and the senior Jarl’s Squad formed ranks to salute the Juniors at the north end of the Lower Hillhead.

The Guizer Jarl this year represented King Magnus the Good who battled his long-standing rival Jarl Svein and his Wendish allies.

Torches lit, the 15-strong Jarl’s Squad and the other 10 school squads set off in fine voice turning the corner into the Town Hall Brae where they marched and counter-marched a couple of times before heading into the burning site, all the while accompanied by the indefatigable Lerwick Brass Band.

After the brief ceremonials torches were hurled and this year’s galley Niamh, which had been on display outside the museum and archives earlier in the day, caught flame and was soon well alight.

It was the first welcome blast of warmth of the evening for the onlookers and a reminder that the grip of winter will slacken.

Shadowing this year’s Junior Jarl Squad was Brydon Leslie who is writing a book on the 60-year history of the Junior Jarl’s squad which will be published in time for next year’s Up-Helly-A’.

Lewis is the 60th Junior Jarl and next Up-Helly-A’ will be the 60th anniversary of the first junior event.

While Mr Leslie has nailed most of the factual history of the event, he is keen to hear from anyone with stories or anecdotes to flesh out the dry narrative. He can be contacted at

There will also be a get-together of all living ex-Junior Jarl’s on the Saturday following next Up-Helly-A’ and an Up-Helly-A’ exhibition in Da Gadderie for six weeks over the season.

Ian Spence of the Junior Up-Helly-A’ committee is looking for interesting photos of small squads and their members, particularly those other than the Junior Jarl’s Squad which is already well documented. He can be contacted on phone 01595 694176 or 07778 582931.


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