Cullivoe Up Helly Aa
The first Up Helly Aa held in North Yell took place as a children's event in Sellafirth on the 25th January 1957. Peter Spence was the first Jarl and his galley - the Nornagest - was burned after the procession. There was no Jarl's squad, the guizers were all individual except for a squad from Mid Yell depicting the olympics, featuring the 'star' of the classic film 'Wee Geordie'. The following year, 1958, Sellafirth lost interest in the festival, and handed over the task of running it to the North Yell Badminton Club. That year Willie Barclay Henderson was the first ever Jarl in the Cullivoe Public Hall, and the Badminton Club was to continue running the event for the next two years. This escalated into an island event, with many people finding the Lerwick Up Helly Aa too difficult to reach.
On the 17th September 1960, an Up Helly Aa Committee was established, ensuring that the festival would remain in Cullivoe. A lack of interest on the Committee saw no Up Helly Aa in either 1966 or 1968. In 1969 however, new committee members were added, and the upsurge of youthful enthusiasm has helped the festival to progress ever since. The Cullivoe Primary School was added as a hall for the first time in 1982, to reduce overcrowding of the main public hall and, as it was successful, this continues today.
The following is an extract from the Shetland Times recording the first Up Helly Aa in 1957:
SELLAFIRTH'S FIRST UP-HELLY-AA FESTIVAL
The idea of an Up-Helly-Aa celebration to be held at Sellafirth was first discussed at a Guy Fawkes bonfire, when Mr R. Williamson, Sellafirth, mentioned that he planned to build a small galley for the children to burn. He wondered if Mr Jamieson could procure a suitable head and tail. Mr Jamieson said he could; thus the idea began to take shape. When the event took place last Monday it had grown from a children's festival to an event which brought people from all over the island.
The galley was built by Mr Robert Williamson, who spent much time working on her out of doors, often under great difficulties due to the inclemency of the weather. She looked very smart in her yellow and blue paint, with sail furled and flag at top of mast depicting a raven in flight. The torches were made by the Guizer Jarl, Mr Peter Spence, Gutcher, with valuable help of others. Much of the organisation was done by members of the community Club.
During the forenoon the galley, which was named Nornagest, was placed on show at the crossroads of the Sellafirth-Gutcher junction, which was the starting place. Weather conditions were ideal for local amateur photographers who took a number of photos.
The weather still held good for the muster, and when the torches were lit at 7 o'clock, many people remarked at the colourful spectacle of guizers dressed in their costumes. The route to Portland Quarry, which was the burning site, was a short one of about 400 yards. After the Guizer Jarl jumped from the galley, torches were thrown into her as the guizers and crowd sang "The Norseman's Home." As she burned there was a firework display of red signal rockets, Catherine wheels, squibs, etc.
When the galley had burned guizers and spectators made their was to the public hall, which was packed to capacity. A number of children were dressed in individual costumes, some depicting famous characters. Most of the younger boys were dressed in Davy Crocket suits, and there was one excellent impersonation of Oor Willie, dressed in dungarees and sitting on a bucket. One small boy was dressed up as a cowboy complete with six-shooters. The girls were dressed in more feminine garb, including Japanese lady, dressed in Oriental costume; a fairy, whose dress and wings were made out of crepe paper, who carried in her hand a wand; another was dressed as an elf, while yet another posed as Little Red Riding Hood. Other outstanding costumes among the children included a boy dressed up as a jockey; a girl as a hospital nurse, and a dress representing the song Buttons and Bows. The adults too had their individual fancy dresses, and some were organised in squads.
After everyone was seated inside the hall there arrived a squad dressed as Indian Pedlars. They wore outer coats, with coloured turbans on their heads, and darkened faces. On entering the hall they blabbed among themselves in a pseudo-Hindustani, and the proceeded to open suitcases, with great persistence attempting to sell their wares. To the playing of the grand march of a dozen young ladies marched in representing the King, Queen and Jack of the four suits in a pack of cards. Their head-dress was in the shape of a crown decorated with either heart, spade, diamond or club. They wore cloaks on which were embroidered the letter K for king etc.
Next came a squad dressed in white boiler suits, each man wearing a face mask. On the suits were fixed imitation sweets of the conversation lozenge type. They dished out sweets around the hall.
The Guizer Jarl then mounted the platform to make a short speech in which he said: "With the help and support we have received from without and inside the district, there is ample evidence that although this is the first Up-Helly-Aa in Sellafirth it will not be the last. I hope you all enjoy yourselves as much as I have since I was first asked to be Guizer Jarl. The preparation for the festival has been a great pleasure, and I wish to thank all those who have helped to make it a success. I hope you all enjoy yourselves, despite the fact that many things have arranged at short notice."
He then read four telegrams, the first being a greetings telegram from the Up-Helly-Aa committee in Uyeasound:-
Uyeasound - Best wishes for a successful festival - Uyeasound Up-Helly-Aa Committee.
Lerwick - Hope the galley burns well and that you all have a first class night - Andrew Hardie.
Lerwick - Best wishes for a grand night, sorry we can't be with you. - Eliza and Alma.
Burravoe - Our spirits are with you, sorry we can't be with you too. Best wishes for your new enterprise. - Brough.
Tea was served after the reading of the telegrams, and the next part of the evening consisted of items rendered by members of the Cullivoe party. Each item was introduced by the Guizer Jarl. The programme included: - Solo Miss Joey Henry, Makes no Difference Now and the Heart of the Shamrock; duet, Miss Vina Jamieson and Miss Muriel Tulloch, Whatever Will Be Will Be; solo, Miss Vina Jamieson, I wish I had never seen sunshine; solo, Mr George Henry, Old Ireland Over Hear and Dounaree; solo Mr Andrew Nicolson, Teardrop off a Rose, and a yodelling song. The musical items were accompanied by Mrs B. W. Tulloch at the organ, with the exception of the cowboy songs sung and yodelled bu Mr Andrew Nicolson, who accompanied himself on the guitar. Mr L. Robertson, Herra, and Mr Andrew Nicolson, Cullivoe, rounded off the programme with a selection of tunes played on the violin and guitar. Mr W. Scollay, Sellafirth, asked for a vote of thanks for the Guizer Jarl and all those who helped.
Dancing then commenced, but was interrupted about 10.30 p.m. by the arrival of the "Olympic Team." First to enter was the torch bearer carrying the Olympic flame, followed by the organiser and his team. There was a motor cycle race on child's tricycles, followed by a boxing match. It was obvious that the decision was not to the satisfaction of the spectators. Throwing the hammer was done by one man dressed in a kilt as Geordie. After his magnificent throw he was congratulated by the blonde Helga.
Dancing again commenced ans carried on until the late hours of next morning. Music was supplied by various musicians present in the gathering.
Historical text, photographs & programme information reproduced courtesey of Michael Nisbet on behalf of the Cullivoe Up Helly Aa committee.
The Modern Festival
The festival takes place on the last Friday in February and follows an established pattern of events during the day. The years Galley is taken from the galley shed in the early hours just across the road to Moarfield Garage, where she is joined by the Jarl's Squad after breafast. The Cullivoe Primary School & pre-school bairns join the Jarl's Squad at the garage and the Galley with bairns aboard are towed to the School for photographs at the School. After the photo session the galley is taken to the grassy area between R.S. Henderson's shop and the Cullivoe Hall where she remains on display throughout the day. The Bill is on display in the Cullivoe Hall.
After the visit to the Cullivoe Primary School the Jarl's Squad visit folk in Cullivoe, returning to the School for lunch with the bairns. After lunch the Jarl's Squad pose with the bairns for more photos and then for Squad Photos at a location chosen by the years Jarl. The Jarl's Squad then visit more folk during the rest of the afternoon around Cullivoe.
The evening muster is at the Cullivoe Hall from 7pm onwards with the light-up at 7:30pm. The guizers, led by the Jarl's Squad, march the galley from the hall to the marina, before setting her alight and floating her out to sea alongside the Culli Voe breakwater. Since 2003 a new galley has been built each year for the festival. The squads start shortly afterwards in both the Hall and the School. Guizers perform their act in both venues, with the Jarl Squad viewing all the acts from the Hall stage. When the squads are all finished, the dance begins, and merryment goes on till the early hours.
The Hop day is on Saturday, and begins with those who are able going to the Hall and School to clean up from the previous evening's festivities. Once that's done, buses take anyone who wants to go to the Burravoe hall, where music, food and drink is served. Back in Cullivoe, the Concert begins around half 7 or 8pm, where a variety of acts from music to sketches to poems are performed to a busy hall and the jarl squad. After the concert, the dance begins and more merryment goes on till the early hours.
A Guizer's return night is held the following Saturday, and gives a chance for the guizers to see the other squads. The squads perform with dances in between, then the dance continues afterwards. All are welcome to attend.
Cullivoe Up Helly Aa by Year
- Cullivoe Up Helly Aa 2012
- Cullivoe Up Helly Aa 2011
- Cullivoe Up Helly Aa 2010
- Cullivoe Up Helly Aa 2009
- Cullivoe Up Helly Aa 2008
Cullivoe Guizer Jarls by Year
Jarl Squad Shields