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The first Galley appeared in the Up-Helly-Aa procession in 1889 and was burned at the Market Cross at the end of the parade.
The early Galleys were made from a light timber frame covered with canvas or alternatively old boats, whose useful life afloat was over, were converted and subsequently sent to Valhalla.
By 1914, when Up Helly Aa was stopped for six years due to the Great War, the Galley was taking the lines of the present day shape and was being built by carpenters and the boat builders who worked in the docks area at the North of Lerwick. The “Docks Boys”, as they were known, has built a number of models of famous navel vessels including ‘The Great Harry’, ‘HMS Dreadnaught’ and USS Dakota’ and in 1912 were asked by the Up Helly Aa Committee to build the festival Galley. From 1920, the first festival after the First World War, until 1939, when the festivities were halted once more due to hostilities, the Galley was still built by the “Dock Boys”. During this time funds were not always available to build the Galley from fresh materials. The Galley was built to similar lines but not the exact dimensions of the present day Galley, designed by Lerwick boat builder James Smith, locally known as “Boatie Jeemie” who served on the Up Helly Aa Committee for over twenty years but never took the position of Guizer Jarl.
Boatie Jeemie’s design was first seen in 1949, the first festival after the end of World War Two, and each galley has been built to the same dimensions ever since.
Today the Galley is built and painted by a group of local dedicated volunteers. Work commences at the end of October and continues two nights a week until the completed, painted Galley is ready for the festival on the last Tuesday of January.
The colour of the Galley varies from year to year, it is the Guizer Jarls choice. The colour chosen complements the Jarl Squad suit. As such, it is a closely guarded secret until its public unveiling on Up Helly Aa day.
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