Saturday 1 October 2016

Firefighters called out as huge bonfires lit on eleventh night

David Young and Michael McHugh

Published 12/07/2016 | 00:22

A bonfire is lit on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the
A bonfire is lit on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the "Eleventh night" to usher in the Twelfth commemorations. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A bonfire is lit on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the "Eleventh night" to usher in the Twelfth commemorations. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A bonfire is lit on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the "Eleventh night" to usher in the Twelfth commemorations. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A bonfire is lit on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the "Eleventh night" to usher in the Twelfth commemorations. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Firefighters were summoned to an incident involving a bonfire as huge blazes were lit in loyalist communities across Northern Ireland marking the height of the parading season.

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The overall number of calls to the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) was lower than last year, an early-evening update from the emergency service said.

A bonfire is lit on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the
A bonfire is lit on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the "Eleventh night" to usher in the Twelfth commemorations. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The traditional "Eleventh Night" fires mark the start of commemorations of the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690.

The lighting of the towering structures, most built with stacks of wooden pallets, drew thousands of onlookers, but was again the source of controversy despite the efforts of organisers to improve their image.

To their defenders they make for a family-friendly, spectacular celebration of loyalist/Protestant culture; to their detractors they are potentially dangerous, environmentally damaging, magnets for anti-social behaviour and alienating to nationalists.

There were complaints of the burning of Sinn Fein election posters made for May's Stormont Assembly poll as well as the use of toxic tyres.

In recent years, bonfire builders have faced criticism after items linked to the nationalist/republican tradition - such as Irish flags and posters, and effigies of high-profile politicians - were placed on top of some of the fires and torched.

Last year, homes near Chobham Street in east Belfast had to be evacuated over fears the giant nearby bonfire could topple onto property.

A bonfire is lit on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the
A bonfire is lit on the Shankill Road in Belfast on the "Eleventh night" to usher in the Twelfth commemorations. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

While this year's bonfire in that neighbourhood has been moved away from those homes, and is set to be smaller in scale, the fire is still proving contentious. Equipment in a newly-built children's play park has had to be moved amid fears of damage.

At the Ballybeen bonfire at Dundonald in greater Belfast, environmental concerns about noxious fumes have been raised after footage emerged of a large number of tyres being dumped at the site for burning.

Many fires were lit late on Monday night, ushering in Tuesday's Twelfth of July parades.

Authorities in Northern Ireland are cautiously optimistic the Twelfth can pass off peacefully, but have a major policing operation planned to deal with any unrest.

Press Association

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