Festival: Canterbury Shetland and Orkney Society – keeping the Viking culture alive

(caption for the above picture: Up Helly Aa festival celebrations by the Canterbury Shetland and Orkney Society)

Shetland also called the Shetland Islands, is a subarctic archipelago that lies north-east of the island of Great Britain and forms part of Scotland, United Kingdom.

The 100 islands lie some 80kmto the north-east of Orkney and 280kmsouth-east of the Faroe Islands and form part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. Lerwick, isthe capital of Shetland since taking over from Scalloway in 1708.

Humans have lived in Shetland since the Mesolithic period, and the earliest written references to the islands date back to Roman times. Fishing has continued to be an important aspect of the economy up to the present day ,and the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s significantly boosted Shetland economy, employment and public sector revenues.

The local way of life reflects the Scots and Norse heritage of the isles including the ”Up Helly Aa“ fire festival, and a strong musical tradition, especially the traditional fiddle style. The islands have produced a variety of writers of prose and poetry, often in Shetland dialect. There are numerous areas set aside to protect the local fauna and flora, including a number of important seabird nesting sites. The Shetland pony, Sheep and Shetland Sheep dog are well known Shetland animal breeds.

In the 1800’s our ancestors, had to find a better life than the harsh economic and political ‘climate‘ provided, so they managed to gain assistance to sail to New Zealand and other countries. These voyages took 12 weeks in sailing ships. Children were born on board and some immigrants died on the journey.

Orkney is an archipelago off the north-eastern coast of Scotland. The islands encompass Neolithic sites, tall sandstone cliffs and seal colonies. The 'Heart of Neolithic Orkney' is a group of 5,000-year-old sites on Mainland, the largest island, including Skara Brae, a 3,000BC preserved village with a reconstructed house, and Maeshowe, a chambered burial tomb incorporating 12th-century Viking carvings. Orkney was the site of a Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow, which played a major role in World War I and II. THE KIRKWALL BA’ GAME. The Ba' is played every Christmas and New Year's Day in Kirkwall, Orkney. This traditional game of mass football played in the streets of the town. (www.bagame.com)

Formed in 1998 The Canterbury Shetland and Orkney Society is a friendly network and social hub for interested locals and Island descendants. We have about 120 members and we meet every two months for social outings and to celebrate festivals such as ‘Up Helly Aa’ (www.uphellyaa.org/) held on the last Tuesday in January, by singing the three Viking songs and carrying out a ‘Galley-Burning,’and playing such Viking games as Kubb.

Music is very much a part of our heritage and we have piano players as well as flute, Piano accordion and fiddlers. Fiddle–making is the passion of two of our members as well. We also display items of our heritage at the Hororata Highland Games and Culture Galore.

Several of our members have visited Shetland and Orkney and have provided up-to-date talks on the life there now. Although most Society members have Orkney or Shetland genealogy, some people join simply to learn more of Viking history and culture.

- Evan Thomson, President, Canterbury Shetland and Orkney Society