Lerwick Up Helly Aa 1999

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Up Helly Aa Fact File
Date: January 26th
Jarl:
Portraying:
Davie Mathewson
Sigurd Hlodvisson
Galley Name: Ásmundervag
Jarl's Squad Members: 46
Number of Squads: 48
Total Guizers: 902
Number carrying torches: 832
The Programme Cover.
The 1999 Bill (click to read).


The Jarl's Squad

Guizer Jarl Davie Mathewson.
List of 1999 Squads.
Jarls Squad on Galley.
The Jarl Squad's Shield.
Photo by Kozetland1.
1999 Bill Head - painted by Melvyn Leask.

Davie Mathewson (b. 1963 - d. Apr. 1st 2001) was the 1999 Guizer Jarl for the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, and represented Sigurd Hlodvisson.
He was the brother of ex-Jarl John Mathewson.
He worked for the firm of MacLeod & MacLean in their vehicle accessories shop at 13 Commercial Road, (the premises now occupied by Da Wheel Bar), until that business closed, he was then employed by the spares department of Leask Motor Garage (Lerwick) Ltd.

About the Jarl's Guizer name
Sigurd Hlodvisson (circa 960 – 1014), popularly known as Sigurd the Stout, was Earl of Orkney from 991 to 1014.

Sigurd the Stout or Sigurd Digre (meaning 'big') was son of Hlodver, Earl of Orkney and a direct descendant of Rognvald of More. Sigurd's mother was Audna (or Eithne), daughter of King Cerbhall of Ossory, Ireland. Sigurd would appear to be an only son, and fortunate in having few surviving relatives. Sigurd had five sons:- Hundi, Summarlidi, Brusi, Einar and Thorfinn. Little is known of the geneology of Sigurd's first wife, but his second wife was Plantula, the daughter of King Malcolm II of Scotland and the mother of Thorfinn.

According to the Orkneyinga Saga, Sigurd was a great chieftain who ruled over several dominions, including the Isle of Man. He was powerful enough to defend Caithness against the Scots and went on Summer expeditions, plundering the Hebrides, Scotland and Ireland.

One Summer it happened that a Scottish Earl called Finnleik challenged Sigurd to fight him on a particular day at Skitten, Caithness. Sigurd, realising that the odds were heavily against him, went to his mother for advice. Audna was a wise woman, some say a sorceress, but made for Sigurd a fine banner, richly embroidered with the figure of a raven in full flight. When the banner fluttered in the breeze, the raven appeared to fly ahead. Audna went on to explain that the banner would bring death to the bearer but victory to the army before whom it was displayed. Earl Sigurd was displeased at the advice, but received support from the Orkney farmers after promising the return of their land-rights, then set out to Skitten to confront Earl Finnleik. The two sides formed up, but the moment they clashed, Sigurd's Standard Bearer was struck dead. Sigurd lost three standard bearers before the battle was won.

The next important event in Sigurd's life was in 995 when at Ásmundarvag (Osmondwall) in Vagaland, (Kirk Hope, Orkney) Olaf Trygvesson soon to be King of Norway landed with 5 ships. Sigurd was preparing for an expedition with 3 ships when a messenger was sent from Olaf.

Now Olaf had in the course of a viking raid been converted to christianity and was exceedingly anxious to make everyone else follow his example. Having caught Sigurd unexpectedly at Vagaland, Olaf threatened to slay Sigurd's son Hundi unless the Jarl and his subjects were baptised and embrace Christian faith. The argument was convincing. Hundi was taken by Olaf to Norway as hostage, where he died young. Afterwards Sigurd relapsed into his old heathen practices. At the Battle of Clontarf on the Liffey where old and new faiths fought for the last time, we find Sigurd on the side of the Heathen. And so it was that King Sigtrygg of the silken beard had sought help along the length and breadth of the western Viking world.

Sigurd the Stout, Brodir from the Isle of Man and Vikings from Iceland and Norway were called ostensibly to support their fellow Scandinavians at the fortified market in Dublin. They were to face the Christian King, Brian Boru the greatest hero in early Irish history, when political tensions were resolved in one of the most fatal and doom-laden battles of Norse history. The battle of Clontarf, was fought on Good Friday, 23rd April 1014 and is described vividly in the Njal Saga. A national unity as never seen before; a battle for independence at least and at the most the conquest of Ireland from the Norsemen; an event of enormous significance. An army of 20,000 strong faced 8,000 vikings. 11,000 would die in the ensuing battle around Dublin.

The result was in a sense a victory and a loss to both sides. King Brian, his son and grandson were all killed in the battle and its aftermath. On the Viking side Brodin and Sigurd both perished. King Brian in legend was held to have saved Ireland by his victory but it is hard to say from what. The Scandinavian settlements were too useful to the native Irish to be eradicated. King Sigtrygg survived and ruled Dublin's great market until the 1030's. After the Vikings came the Norman-English, but their cruelty and callousness led to the long disaster of irish history, spanning eight apalling blood-spattered centuries.

Portents and omens all through the Northern seas announced to the Norsemen that the day had gone against them. A description of the great battle, found in the Icelandic Njal's Saga, sums up the conflict:

I was present where menfought;
Swords shrilled in Ireland.
Weapons were shattered
In the clash of shields.
I heard that the battle was fierce;
Sigurd fell in the storms of spears
Wounds bled freely.
Brian fell, but conquered.

During the battle the enchanted raven banner had flown before Sigurd's army. As one standard bearer after another fell Sigurd at last ordered Hrafn the Red to carry the standard, but he replied bear thine own devil thyself'. Sigurd observing that a beggar should carry his own bundle, took the banner from the staff and put it under his cloak. He was almost immediately killed either by a random spear, as the Njal saga states, or by Murchadh, the son of King Brian, according to Irish accounts.

After Sigurd fell, a regular stampede ensued amongst the Norsemen. The battle was lost. Odin's Raven had failed Sigurd.

Sigurd's three oldest sons later divided the Earldom amongst them. His youngest son, later Thorfinn the Mighty, grew up to be the most powerful and sole Earl of Orkney and his energetic and capable rule allowed Orkney to attain its maximum influence. He guided Orkney through the transition from a pirate earldom on the margins of Christendom to a Christian state.

Jarl Mathewson has chose the Raven image as a theme that runs through the Squad's presentation. The galleys of Sigurd's fleet are depicted on the Proclamation Headpiece, sailing towards Asmundarvag.

Text by D. Grant


The Galley

Brian Hunter working on the Galley Head.

This years Galley was named Ásmundervag.


The Burning

The 1999 Galley Burning.


See Also


Lerwick Up Helly Aa 1998 < - > Lerwick Up Helly Aa 2000
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