Bonfire 2006 N'ards Rd

A bonfire prepared for the Eleventh Night, Newtownards Road, Belfast.

The eleventh night refers to the night before The Twelfth, an annual Protestant commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne, fought 12 July 1690. It is also known as bonfire night, in common with other events in which bonfires are lit. On this night, some Unionist communities in Northern Ireland light bonfires.[1]

History of bonfires on the eleventh night

Traditionally, bonfires are lit to commemorate the lighting of bonfires on the hills of Antrim and Down to aid King William III's navigation through Belfast Lough (then Carrickfergus Lough) at night. William landed at Carrickfergus with English, French and Dutch forces with which to fight the exiled King James II, who had been trying to regain his British kingdoms through support amongst Roman Catholics of France and Ireland.

Bonfires in Northern Ireland traditionally mark the night before the Twelfth. However, should the Twelfth fall on a Sunday, as it did in 2009, the public holiday is given in lieu on the preceding Monday. This means that some bonfires may also be held on a Sunday night.


Irish flag on bonfire

A bonfire in Belfast, Northern Ireland, constructed from wooden pallets and waste furniture. Note an Irish flag, intended to be burnt, included at its top, and the Ulster banner hung on the lamp post in the foreground

Due to the bonfires being held by members of the Unionist community in predominantly Unionist areas, some bonfires are adorned with nationalist emblems. These include Irish tricolours, shirts and uniforms of Glasgow's Celtic F.C. football team, or a Roman Catholic emblem, are burnt along with the bonfire.[1]

A further sectarian element has been added to some bonfires due to 'shows of strength' by loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), who have sent hooded gunmen to some bonfires to fire into the air.

Another major issue some have with the bonfires is their association with violence and drunkenness amongst those attending.[1]

Environmental concerns of bonfires

As with other bonfires, those on the eleventh night have raised both health and safety concerns, as well as environmental ones, particularly due to the use of tyres and the close proximity to buildings of some bonfires.[2][1]

Bonfires are often built to be as large as possible. In the past, and in some cases even now, bonfires have been built close to houses and council flat complexes, amongst other buildings. Roads are often damaged, and, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation, clean-up and repairs made to roads due to bonfire-related damage can "cost thousands of pounds", with some roads needing to be resurfaced.[1]

A major concern of bonfires that has risen to greater prominence in recent years is the pollution they cause. In some bonfires, despite bans by bodies such as Belfast City Council, tyres are burnt. Tyres produce many toxic chemical compounds when burnt, and therefore pose a major health issue. The general wood burnt in the bonfires also contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.[1]

Environmentally-friendly bonfires

A more environmentally-friendly bonfire design, known as a beacon due to its pyramid shape, is enclosed in a metal cage, and made from willow chips, made from willow trees which re-grow within a year of being cut down. This makes the new beacon design of bonfire carbon neutral. The new design is being used in some areas of Belfast, where communities are given £1,200 for using these bonfires.

However, some Unionist communities oppose the beacon design, claiming that it infringes upon their culture.[1]


See also

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