Scalloway Fire Festival
The Scalloway Fire Festival dates back to the late 1800s and at that time it was held at Christmas. There appears to be no record of the tar barrel type of activity which was associated with the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, but every Christmas night saw large bonfires being lit on Garriock's pier to celebrate the festival. In 1898, a galley appeared for the first time, and was burnt on the pier on New Year's Day. Over the next few years the custom was for the guizers to parade through Scalloway on Christmas morning and in the evening, the torchlight procession was from Blacksness to the pier where the final bonfire was held, the centre-piece being occasionally a model galley, sometimes an old boat. A "decorated cart" was also usually part of the parade.
In 1905 The Shetland Times reported from Scalloway that "a fresh item of interest was introduced into our Yule festivities by the celebration of Up-Helly-Aa. In former years the "decorated cart", the torchlight procession and the Christmas fire were about all that broke the monotony at this season."'
It goes on to say that a meeting of everyone interested had been held, and the unanimous decision was that a Norse war galley should be built, and, after being pulled through the main streets, should be "converted into a bonfire." Only a week was needed to build the galley and make the torches! The procession route was from Blacksness to West Shore, then back to Garriock's pier where the burning took place. In future, said the Scalloway correspondent, "we hope to see Christmas and its cart discarded, and the Up-Helly-Aa galley and procession an annual event." It is interesting to note the financial details of that venture in 1905: Income: - Collection at Guizers' meeting - 10/-, Subscription Sheet - 15/7. Total - £1:5s:7d. Expenditure: Hay and Co. - 16/-, Fraser and Co. - 6/6, Sundaries - 3/1. Total- £1:5s:7d. That year, after their bonfire, the guizers "visited their friends", and later returned to the Public Hall which had been hired for the occasion.
The festival remained mainly a Christmas celebration until between the wars, when it was changed from Christmas Day to Christmas Eve. A perfectly adequate reason was that Christmas Day was always a holiday, and provided a welcome opportunity for recuperation!
The Second World War of course caused another break, and in the years that followed the yonger generation were the first to revive the old tradition. They gathered large piles of material at Garriock's pier for the Christmas bonfires, and in 1954 two galleys were burned. After another gap, a galley was burned at Port Arthur in 1959, and in 1961 at Berry Farm, after which there was another extended gap.
It was not until 1979 that the festival re-started again with a galley built and a Bill prepared. December 28th was the chosen date, and, on the morning of festival day, the galley was parked in front of the Scalloway Hotel. The Jarl and his squad visited the Eventide Homes and a number of houses during the day. Soon after 7p.m. the guizers assembled outside the Boating Club. At 7.30pm the torches were lit, and led by a lone piper the 85 torch-bearers accompanied the galley via Main Street and New Street to a yard north of the Scalloway Castle for the burning. Thereafter the six squads of guizers visited the three halls open - the Boating Club, the Public Hall and the Fishermen's Arms.
The festival has continued since that time and though the procession route and burning site has now changed the general pattern remains the same. While neither Christmas Eve or Christmas Day are any longer the fixed date for the event, it still remains essentially a Christmas fire festival with its own characteristics and its own traditions.
Text based on an account in Up-Helly-Aa - James W. Irvine (1982).
The Modern Festival
The current festival is held on the second Friday of January and is the first of the Shetland Fire festivals each year.
The Galley Shed is located across the road from the Kiln Bar in Scalloway. A new galley is built here every year, and burnt on the sea at the Scalloway Boating Club. The 3 blue strips alongside the door are where the annual Bill is attached and displayed on the day of the festival. Jarl's Squad Shields and some axes are on display in the Kiln Bar and the Galley Shed.
The festival follows a well established pattern of events. The Galley Boys take the years Galley from the Galley Shed to the Scalloway Boating Club around 08:30 where it joins the Jarl's Squad who begin their day at the Scalloway Boating Club for breakfast. The Jarl's Squad first visit the North Atlantic Fisheries College Marine Centre then join the Galley where it is taken along the waterfront to outside the Scalloway Playgroup building (at Da Waterfront). Here the Jarl's Squad pose for photographs with the Galley before the day gets underway with visits to the Scalloway Playgroup, the Walter & Joan Eventide Home, the Scalloway School, the Tingwall School, the Scalloway Royal British Legion and the Hamnavoe Primary School.
In the evening the Jarls Squad muster at the Scalloway Royal British Legion at 6:45pm, where they march with the Galley up the ranks along Lovers Loan where the light-up usually commences at 7pm. The procession then moves off down New Street towards Burn Beach, then along Main Street to West Shore and out to Port Arthur and the Galley burning site adjacent to the Scalloway Boating Club. The Galley is burnt floating on the sea just off from the Boating Club.
The current halls open for the evening guizers are - 1. Bridge End Hall, 2. Hamnavoe Hall, 3. Scalloway Boating Club, 4. Scalloway Hall, 5. Scalloway Legion, 6. Tingwall Hall.
Scalloway Fire Festival by Year
- Scalloway Fire Festival 2012
- Tall Ships Races 2011, Cruise in Company, Scalloway Fire Festival
- Scalloway Fire Festival 2011
- Scalloway Fire Festival 2010
- The 2009 Festival, scheduled for Friday 9th January, was cancelled due to illness of the Jarl's infant son.
- Scalloway Fire Festival 2008
- Scalloway Fire Festival 2004
Scalloway Guizer Jarls since 1979
Gallery of Shields