Playing with Fire: An Age-old Ceremony in Stonehaven
Standing nervously in line with my briskly burning fireball on the ground behind me, waiting my turn to launch into my first ever fireball swinging, a voice behind me said: “now Roger another thing…remember to try and breathe only when the fireball is behind you!” That advice was a bit late in the day!
I have lived in Stonehaven for 36 years now and I knew, 3 years ago when I was asked if I would like to swing a fireball in the famous local Hogmanay ceremony, that I had finally been accepted as a local! I was really proud to be part of this and have now taken part three times.
The fireball swinging ceremony is pretty spectacular: 45 men and women swinging massive balls of flame around their heads as they stride the length of Stonehaven’s old High Street. The stronger ones complete 3 circuits between the clock tower at the sea end and the canon at the town end, probably about 1,200 metres in all. I can tell you that’s pretty tiring! On the night there can be between 7-10,000 spectators crowding the length of the street and the pier at the harbour; and many of these have come a long way, this year someone called to me that they had come 7,000 miles to see my fireball!. The reception given to the swingers is tremendous and the occasion is a very family oriented event, even if it does start at midnight, with a pipe band, drummers and other entertainment. And a very humorous and lively crowd of people!
The ceremony has a long history, the earliest documented evidence being from 1908, but it is likely to have been going before then. Only in the two World Wars did fireball swinging lapse and then due to blackout restrictions. It is believed to be rooted in superstitious fisher folk expunging evil spirits at the turn of the year and paving the way for a fortuitous new year to come. It is true that spirits are still much in evidence amongst the spectators!
Another amazing night. How lucky we are - each year seems to be better than ever. After all the storms, the rain, the wind, the flood, the mud, the muck - we get a dry, calm, clear mild night with an almost full moon! Perfect? Well as near as. The fireworks (by Fireworx Scotland) were very good – even better than usual as there had been a slight hitch last time so we got ‘good value’ this time.
Not only was all that in our favour but we are given over £7,500.00 for the flood victims by a very generous number of the spectators. That's five times what we were able to donate in 2010.
All the plans that were gone over time and time again worked well. Some of the last minute changes that had to be implemented because of the storm and flood damage didn't work so well but lessons have been learned and adjustments will be put in place.
So far, we have managed to keep the Fireball Ceremony a free event. How long this continues we don't know and can't guess. Each year the rules, regulations, Health & Safety requirements etc etc change and inevitably there are added costs. Sponsorship and support from local organisations and businesses has helped us enormously over the years but there is a limit to what we can finance. So you don't need tickets, you don't have to book a place, just turn up and enjoy!
Each year we try and raise financial support from the spectators on the night. This also is a great source of funding and has the added benifit of allowing us (the Swingers) and the spectators to meet before the event and gives the spectators a chance to ask about the ceremony etc. If, when you come to our event you get a chance to drop somthing into one of our buckets. It will be appreciated (as long as it is cash, and of the bronze sort!). If you want to help us out by being a marshal then contact Kevin Boyne firstname.lastname@example.org or Andrinne Craig email@example.com All our volunteers are greatly appreciated by both the committee and the swingers, as, without them giving up their spare time at Hogmanay the event couldn't go ahead.
What an amazing night that was!!!! Each year we say it was the best and this year is no different. Thanks to all who helped make it happen and to those who came to watch us. We enjoyed you enjoying us. There were quite a few swingers and spectators who were there for very personal reasons. They were wanting 2011 to be well and trully burned out as it had not been the best of years for them. Lets hope for them and all of us 2012 is a better year.
I have heard today that Jock Brown has died. More details will follow when I have any more information. It is sad to loose another Swinger.
Jock was a strong supporter of the Fireball Ceremony for many years. Our records show that he started swinging in 1950 and last took part in 1995 having swung 47 times. These details may not be correct as he hasn't been in contact with the Association.
If anyone has any memories of Jock taking part in our ceremony then please send them in.
2011 arrived in a fairly quiet way. The evening had been wet at times but just an annoying drizzle. Everything was in place. The clocks had been put up the day before (Thursday) and set to the correct time, the barriers were set up as usual at 6pm. The marshals briefing had taken place and they were at their positions with fire extinguishers and radios where needed. The brochure distribution was well under way with teams of swingers helping to collect donations in exchange for this years edition. Some swingers were working the ‘clickers’ at these points, to monitor the numbers of spectators arriving for the police.
At 11.30pm the brochure distribution points pack up and the swingers take their fireballs down to the slipway for assembly, drenching and lighting. Despite a vital street light being out (after repeated phone calls to the lighting department) on the shorehead the assembly, drenching and lighting up process went ahead reasonably well.
On the stroke of Midnight the lead swinger, Alan Venters, lead off the ceremony walking behind the lone piper. 46 swingers followed Alan with their fireballs alight (some more than others!) to enthral the crowd of approx. 8000.
You may be aware that in 2008 we received a request from the popular BBC1's "Coast" to come along and do some potential filming for the programme. They attended and the filming began with Committee Secretary Susan Leiper wired up with the associated gubbins. She was paid £200 for her trouble which she promptly donated straight back to the Fireball coffers.
BBC1 have now been in touch to say that the programme will be aired on Wednesday 25th August 2010 at 8pm. So, if you cancel your yoga classes and put the golf on hold, you will see Susan get her two minutes of fame (literally!!). Remember though......the camera adds ten pounds!
It's very sad to report that George Emslie died on Wednesday 28th April 2010. George had been a Fireball Swinger for many years. His cheerie attitude to life and his pithy comments on the local scene will be sadly missed in the town.
George was never one to blow his own trumpet so we’ll never know how many times he swung a fireball or when he started. He politely but steadfastly refused to give any detail to his swinging history but we do know that he took part in the ceremonies in ’78, ’79, ’80, 91 & ’93. It’s enough to know that he supported the ceremony as much as he could.
It has been a double blow to the Fireballs Association to loose both brothers in less than three months.