The Eleventh Night: breaking the law and clinging to a culture

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Dear God – is that the time it is? We’ve hardly begun to enjoy the first green mist on  trees and hedges, and here the annual primitivism of  Eleventh Night bonfires has begun to smoulder and crackle already. It seems somebody has put up placards at a loyalist bonfire in the Belvoir area of Belfast, reminding fly-tippers that it’ll cost them £50 if they’re caught dumping rubbish. In true “What fly-tipping?” mode, DUP councillor Christopher Stalford has said he hadn’t seen any evidence of fly-tipping there.

The PSNI, ever keen to discharge their duties, says that fly-tipping is a council affair. SDLP councillor Desmond Lyons says he’s worried that the bonfire won’t be constructed safely. Last year over the Twelfth period the Fire Service were called out to deal with 52 incidents.

There are  at least two responses you can take to this. You can take the Nelson McCausland one, which is to argue loudly for the observation of the law. Certainly that’s the core of Nelson’s current complaint about a masked INLA march in Belfast recently: the law should be observed and the PSNI should be making sure it’s observed. That’s why Nelson, being the consistent man  he is, will  almost certainly be leading  efforts to have illegal bonfires dismantled and those responsible fined or, if necessary, imprisoned. (What have I told you before about bad language, Virginia?)

I don’t know to what degree the Orange Order and unionist leaders realise it,  but each year the  lagerfest conducted in the light of massive flames devouring posters and flags of those that the bonfire boys don’t like – all this doesn’t actually help the national and international image of unionism.  On the contrary it sends out a clear message: not an inch.  Yet this annual and widespread demonstration of coat-trailng draws from unionist politicians not condemnation but fond memories of bonfires when they were boys,  and an insistence that the destruction of hundreds of wooden pallets, along with Catholic and nationalist images, constitutes Protestant/unionist culture.

I’m enough of an optimist to believe there are thousands of decent unionist who feel shamed by this fire – and fire-water – worship. Are my glasses overly rose-tinted?


I have a prediction. Until decent unionist people see the knuckle-dragging no-nothingness of Eleventh Night bonfires, attempts at reconciliation and the construction of lasting peace will continue to be as pointless as sprinkling holy water on one of these roaring infernos.





24 Responses to The Eleventh Night: breaking the law and clinging to a culture

  1. Ciarán May 2, 2016 at 9:02 am #

    Please leave your rose tinted glasses on the sideboard beside the gramophone Jude. (latest technology in this backward hole).

  2. paddykool May 2, 2016 at 9:17 am #

    That time again already Jude? Maybe I should dig out my previous fairy tales from the past few years and re-post ’em for any new readers, eh? I dare say we’ll be having the same conversation this time next year, though….some things never seem to change ,,,

    • giordanobruno May 2, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

      Please not the stadium again!

  3. jessica May 2, 2016 at 9:21 am #

    I say let them have their bonfires, in fact there should be cultural funding made available for them.

    As with all financial arrangements, there would then be conditions such as location being non offensive (i.e. burning flags should be in their own areas only), safety and the person drawing down the funding being responsible for the event.

    The same should apply to nationalist cultural events and republican, where funding could be used instead of bonfires to host a music festival and family oriented cultural event during the day.

    The best solution is always tolerance and acceptance of one another warts and all, and not trying to change the other which only gets backs up.

    The residents living in the area should also have a means of objecting to locations if it causes offense or other valid concerns. Their agreement and support should be essential and key.

  4. BYC May 2, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    “It sends out a clear message : not an inch”. Er…yeah Jude. The people standing around yelling “No Surrender!!” make that pretty clear.

    It’s not going away though. The. only way to civilise the twelfth is to embrace it and see what good you can find in it – tacky as “orangefest” might be. It’s a bit like the Rising celebrations – if the Irish State had done their reconciling version it would have been all masked marches and Shinnerism.

    • Jude Collins May 2, 2016 at 10:03 am #

      Don’t agree, BYS. The lagerfest is about mocking and despising the other; the Easter Rising commemoration/celebration was about embracing all the people equally.

      • BYC May 2, 2016 at 10:19 am #

        That’s not what the Orange Order tell us Jude. It’s about celebrating the glorious revolution, parliamentary democracy and religious freedom. Without the glorious revolution and the changed relations between crown and commons would there have been republican revolution in 1798 and later?

        And you make lagerfests sound like a bad thing. That’s our main shared interest. More arrests on St Patrick’s Day this year than the twelfth last year.

        • Jude Collins May 2, 2016 at 10:51 am #

          Having a good time: falling about and collapsing in my own puke…

        • Ryan May 2, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

          “That’s not what the Orange Order tell us Jude. It’s about celebrating the glorious revolution, parliamentary democracy and religious freedom”

          A lie that can be exposed with a simple glance at History BYC. For a start, after the “Glorious” Revolution there was no religious freedom. It was illegal to be a Catholic and many of the smaller Protestant religions, some Protestant religions were tolerated but certainly not Catholicism. Hence no religious freedom. The penal laws were brought in as well and one still remains in effect to this day: The Act of Settlement. I don’t think there’s anything stopping a Hindu, a Muslim, a Jew, etc becoming the British Monarch but a Catholic? Oh yes. In 2013 the British Parliament refused to scrap the AoS. A true democracy eh?

          There was no democracy either. Land owners and the rich got the right to vote, no one else. Again your religion played a big role. Women didn’t have the right to vote. Hence it wasn’t democratic either. Not to mention England/Britain had no mandate to be in Ireland in the first place.

          The Orange Order come off with these ridiculous statements all the time, trying to justify frankly that which cant be justified.

    • billy May 2, 2016 at 10:26 am #

      its not going away though….
      maybe it wont go away completely,probably it will get one day a year at the battle of the boyne site paid for by the orange of course.

    • Ryan May 2, 2016 at 4:08 pm #

      “The. only way to civilise the twelfth is to embrace it and see what good you can find in it ”

      BYC, what a ridiculous suggestion, that’s got to be one of your best yet lol Its like something some yob from the Shankill Road who left school at the age of 14 would suggest.

      Accepting, never mind embracing, is a way of legitimatizing something, like Anti-Catholicism and Hatred. You know that full well. If I were to say for Unionists to embrace the bonfires set up by Divis hoods in August where they burn Union flags and UVF banners, you would consider that ridiculous because it IS ridiculous. The same applies to your suggestion. Why don’t Unionists just embrace Irish Republicanism and the PIRA? just to see what good you can find in it…..

      “It’s a bit like the Rising celebrations – if the Irish State had done their reconciling version it would have been all masked marches and Shinnerism.”

      There’s absolutely no comparison between Rising celebrations and 11th Night Bonfires. For a start, there is no bonfires lit for Rising Celebrations, never mind burning Union flags, Protestant religious emblems, etc.

      The Easter Rising Leaders wanted to cherish all the children of the nation equally. Whilst Carson and Co wanted to do the exact opposite and wanted to protect the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, aka protect a Protestant minority hierarchy at the expense of the vast majority.

  5. Iolar May 2, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    Burning concerns and unpalatable truths

    “…Until decent unionist people see the knuckle-dragging no-nothingness of Eleventh Night bonfires, attempts at reconciliation and the construction of lasting peace will continue to be as pointless…”

    I would suggest that funding bodies, such as the International Fund for Ireland need to consider if money is literally going up in smoke. Current figures suggest that the International Fund for Ireland commits £1.9m/€2.7m to a range of Peace Projects. How are Peace Projects evaluated when the PSNI and some politicians prevaricate as Belfast burns? Some store up tyres, pallets and more trouble for the future, perhaps it is time to cherry pick funding applications in the context of the annual tyre fest?

    • Jude Collins May 2, 2016 at 10:50 am #

      Shouldn’t that be ‘unpalletable truths’??

      • Iolar May 2, 2016 at 11:58 am #

        What the ‘l’, forsooth, I cannot resist a quote from Orsino in ‘Twelfth Night’:

        “…If music be the food of love, play on.

        Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

        The appetite may sicken and so die.

        That strain again! It had a dying fall…Enough; no more,

        ‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.”

  6. PJ Dorrian May 2, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    I wonder if there is medical evidence of a rise in deaths in people with COPD, Asthma, Heart problems, in PULC areas in the days after the bonfires. Perhaps being told a relative died because of the bonfire might make the organisers think again.
    Who am I kidding?

  7. Ciarán May 2, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    BYC while the English whiggish interpretation of ‘the glorious’ or bloodless revolution may pertain to that country, it certainly was not bloodless in Ireland when over 7’000 men lost their lives in one battle at Aughrim and subsequent slaughters. The twelfth and all its trappings perennially celebrates this triumphalism over another section of Irelands people, and while it does so it keeps the sectarian flame alive. Ireland and England’s experience in the late 17th century were two completely different animals. James mc knight wrote in Derry in 1869 “whenever these periodical displays are intended as a commemoration of the victories of one political party in the state over another they tend to perpetuate the original feud”. Mc Knight was a Presbyterian philanthropist and helped Derry’s economy , would that there were more like him in our contemporary squabbles who could see past burning bonfires and effigies of their perceived enemies.

    • BYC May 2, 2016 at 7:51 pm #

      Fair enough Ciarán. But the best hope for the twelfth might still be in trying to get Orangemen to live up to their own PR. Some might even believe it. We had a relatively quiet one when the twelfth fell in a Sunday so the bonfires were told to be done by midnight (so as to respect the sabbath) and the holiday and parading were on Monday. Just fixing that as we do for Remembrance Sunday would do no harm.

      It might even be good if the Twelfth (as closest Sunday to the twelfth) and the South’s national day of commemoration (which is closest Sunday to the 11th) were both fixed on the same bank holiday weekend.

  8. Mark May 2, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    I recall, 25 years past, driving down the, Protestant, side of the Donegal Road, Belfast, with my new, Protestant brother in law, we observed some of the local neanderthal’s, some his recent school friends, fondly touching up their art work on a gable end, he suggested we join them and paint ‘king billy was a queer’ underneath, ah, sure God love them, billy and James Moleyneaux, what next when the MI5 files are opened?

  9. Ryan May 2, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

    Can the 11th July night be described as cultural? Well we all know what the 11th July is about, its about burning bonfires and the jewel in the crown of the night is when baying crowds of Unionists are celebrating the destruction of emblems representing people who Unionists regard as their enemies. Hence why Irish tricolours, Catholic emblems, effigies of Catholic priests, etc are burnt. When the Mau Mau people won their court case for compensation from the British Government for the torture they endured, there was Kenyan flags burnt on some 11th Night bonfires. When Anna Lo spoke out against sectarianism she was hounded online by Unionists and subjected to racism, so much racism in fact she left politics here completely. Racist placards of her was put on Unionist bonfires on the 11th Night.

    To me the 11th Night bonfires are very similar to the cross burnings the Ku Klux Klan would engage in. The KKK would also describe that as “culture” and say its part of their heritage. Is it a coincidence that the Southern States of the USA were mainly planted by Ulster Scots/Scots Irish? Is this genetic? I’ll leave that up to scientists but there are far too many similarities between Unionists in the North and Ku Klux Klan/Southern Americans for it to be a coincidence. Not many people know that the Ku Klux Klan and organisations that went before it were formed mainly to combat the flow of CATHOLIC immigration from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Poland……

    The main concern when it comes to these 11th July bonfires is the effect its going to have on children. You just have to look at the Unionist politicians who look on these sectarian bonfires in nostalgia, the last thing we need is more future Gregory Campbell’s and Nelson McCausland’s. If a child is being taught that Catholics are to be hated, their emblems burnt, etc then it doesn’t take Einstein to work out what type of adult they will grow up to be. You see, this is deliberate indoctrination. Its the same with Orange Parades. In Susan McKays book “Northern Protestants”, Susan quotes another book where a senior Orange man in the 1960’s is asked “Whats the point of these parades, they are clearly provocative”? the Orange man replies: “To remind the Catholic’s who is master”. One part of the book that I remember is when Susan is in the field at Drumcree and she said she had to leave because she felt “sick due to all the hate”. I expect she’d feel the same if she attended a Unionist bonfire on the 11th….

    Of course all this makes sense. Since the Good Friday Agreement violence has decreased but sectarianism and peace walls have INCREASED. Expect that to continue……

  10. Ciarán May 2, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

    I wonder how many at these bonfires could explain the historical meaning behind them? Not too many me thinks! Good contribution by the way Ryan.

  11. Glenn May 2, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

    I think we all know a republican of good standing who wished he could have a bonfire of the tweets. #Gerry.

    As a Unionist I would have a preference for the more organized bonfires myself. If republicans can be proud of their culture and history then I can’t see why Unionists/Loyalists need to apologize for supporting or enjoying their culture.

  12. Judith July 12, 2016 at 8:42 am #

    Protestant culture is about exploring God’s creation and making use of it in a responsible and creative way. Unionist and Loyalist culture is about celebrating history and traditions linked to many past and current events. Both are sullied by those who break the law, get over intoxicated are sectarian or paramilitary. I shames me to think either claim to represent me. I am a practising methodist and I believe that we are friends of all enemies of none. That includes all religions all races all cultures. It is time that true protestants spoke out against the destruction of our true identity as followers of a rebel, a healer and a deeply non violent person Jesus Christ.

    • Jude Collins July 12, 2016 at 9:51 am #

      Well said, Judith…

    • jessica July 12, 2016 at 10:08 am #

      Protestant culture is very welcome in Ireland
      Unionist culture is not, but tolerance is sometimes better than intolerance

      It is really a matter for the unionist community as to whether they prefer protestant culture or unionist culture