Stonehaven gets set to blaze into 2015

Fireball swingers Rhona McKinnon, Susan Walker and Maurice Coull.
Fireball swingers Rhona McKinnon, Susan Walker and Maurice Coull.
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Preparations for Stonehaven’s famous Fireballs ceremony are under way, as the town prepares to welcome 12,000 Hogmanay revellers.

We caught up with three fireball swingers on Monday for a chat about what it’s like to star in Stonehaven’s most famous event.

Fireball committee chairperson Susan Walker, this year’s lead swinger Maurice Coull and newbie Rhona McKinnon will all be taking part in this year’s ceremony, alongside 42 other volunteers who will be parading down the High Street at midnight with their fireballs, to ward off evil spirits for the new year.

Susan and Maurice first took part in 1998, and have swung every year since, while Rhona started last year and is looking forward to her second time of participating.

To take part you have to live locally, and Susan explained that would-be swingers are required to volunteer as marshals before they are allowed to take part. Every swinger makes their own fireball, being careful to have enough material to keep it burning throughout the ceremony, but not make it so heavy that they can’t swing it round their heads!

Susan said: “Anyone who wants to take part needs to volunteer for a couple of years beforehand. There are loads of things needing done throughout the year, so it’s not just marshalling.”

Maurice will be leading the parade this year, after being nominated by fellow committee members.

He said: “I’m honoured to do it and, once you have, it becomes quite addictive - it really is an adrenaline rush. You just hope your fireball stays lit the whole time!”

Rhona will be swinging her fireball alongside husband Graeme, and described her first experience last year as “incredibly exhilarating.”

She added: “I was very nervous - not about the fireball, but really about putting on a good show for the crowds who had come out to see it. I wanted to do it justice.”

Susan also told us that anyone who would like to volunteer as a marshal, on the night should report to St Bridget’s Hall tonight (Hogmanay) at 8.30pm.

The event is being sponsored by Aberdeen Business School, but relies heavily on donations from the public to carry on running. Susan asked those who will be coming along to spectate to “wrap up warm, and bring some change for the collection buckets as we rely on those donations to keep going.”

The Market Square will be hosting the Open Air in the Square concert simultaneously, and Police Scotland are encouraging people to plan ahead to stay safe on the night.

Local Area Commander for Aberdeenshire South, Chief Inspector Richard Craig, said: “The festive season is a fantastic period of the year and Hogmanay is a traditional time of celebration. We want to encourage people to enjoy themselves, have fun with their friends and family members but to be safe and responsible.

“Following a few simple tips can help to make the most of your evening out; arrive in plenty of time, plan your journey to and from the event and make sure you are dressed for the weather conditions.

“Being aware of your alcohol consumption, staying together with friends and looking after your valuables can help keep you safe at the busiest time of the year.

“As part of our Safer Streets Initiative, additional police officers will be on duty in Stonehaven and across Aberdeenshire during the celebrations. We want to ensure that the very small minority do not have the opportunity to disrupt it for the vast majority who wish to go out and enjoy the festive experience in the other North-east towns and villages.”

Willie Munro, Aberdeenshire Community Safety Partnership, said: “The Hogmanay celebrations in Stonehaven have a long history of success and we anticipate that this year’s event will be a safe family occasion. We would ask that revellers listen to the advice of the police and follow their tips to keep safe.”

Willie Knox, Open Air in the Square Event organiser, added: “Hogmanay is a great celebration and we would encourage everyone to enjoy what is on offer.

‘‘Please plan ahead, stick with your friends, have a fantastic time and, most importantly, get home safely.”

Are you going to be out and about on Hogmanay? Whatever way you bring in the New Year, we would love to see your pictures.

Send them to us at news@mearnsleader.com and the best ones will be printed in the coming weeks.