In early July, bonfires made of tens of thousands of wooden pallets tower over towns and villages across Northern Ireland.
It is a tradition that dates back centuries; in 1690 bonfires were lit by Protestants to guide William of Orange to Ireland’s shores. The Dutch King went on to defeat the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne on 12th July and the date has been commemorated fondly ever since.
In Northern Ireland it is a bank holiday and, for the unionist community, a chance to celebrate their history and culture.
In the town of Larne, on the Antrim coast, one local man was keen to stress that the event was not sectarian in anyway:
“It is only culture, it’s not bigotry and hatred,” he protested to Moncrieff.
“It’s representative of the Battle of the Boyne and it’s just to keep culture going because if you notice around here there’s Catholics who are actually collecting for that bonfire and help build it.”
The town’s current bonfire took six weeks to construct and is made up of some 15,000 pallets all painted in regal red and britannic blue.
This year the aim is to break the Guinness Book of World Record for the highest bonfire in history - currently 198ft - and the man in charge said it was only fitting such an accolade was awarded to Northern Ireland:
“We believe the world record should be here in Northern Ireland, as it’s the home of the bonfires due to our culture and our tradition,” Gareth said proudly.
“Safety is our top priority & sometimes Catholics help us build it.” Join us in Larne NI where the Craigyhill bonfire builders are trying to break the world record for the tallest bonfire ever at 200 ft. @SeanMoncrieff @NewstalkFM 2pm #Twelfthnight pic.twitter.com/HKEr9IGX8o
— Henry McKean (@HenryMcKean) July 7, 2022
Concerns are sometimes raised about the safety of 12th of July bonfires but Gareth says they come mostly from people trying to score political points:
“Nobody’s said it’s too big because we’ve been working with the fire brigade, the council and other people - so it’s not as if they’ve come up [and] said it is too big,” he said.
“It’s just politicians and people jumping on bandwagons.”
But politics is never far away from anything and another local seemed particularly keen to tell Newstalk about his views on Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister:
“I just think he’s a buffoon,” he snapped.
“He’s a clown and the same on the world stage.
“It’s embarrassing. Absolutely embarrassing and he’s a dangerous man. Definitely.”
Larne is located deep inside the DUP stronghold of East Antrim and voters opted to leave the EU by a comfortable margin of 55% to 45% in 2016.
If anything Boris Johnson will be recorded in history as the man that wrestled the United Kingdom out of the European project and built a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
It is a legacy that few on either side of Ulster’s constitutional divide like and fewer still would propose building a bonfire to welcome him to Northern Ireland in the years to come.
Main image: The huge bonfire in Craigyhill, Larne, is lit on the "Eleventh night" to usher in the Twelfth commemorations. Picture by: PA.