THE TOWER OF BABEL?

British Loyalists Bonfires in North of Ireland / Northern Ireland. 2010-2020.

Although the conflict between Irish Catholics and British Protestants in Northern Ireland officially ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, it – after nearly 20 years of this peace process – echoes back recurrently and significantly to this day. Even if the conflict’s amplitude has significantly weakened, it does continue to take a hard toll on the residents of the region.

    With time Belfast city center has taken on the look of most developing European capitals in which new office or university buildings lift the skyline and the urban horizon thickens with cranes reaching for the clouds.

    Yet at the same time, annually and for many a decade now, in the months leading up to the 11th of July, colossal towers of wooden pallets arise amidst the modern towers of steel. These are the Loyalist bonfire structures of the working class, erected to commemorate a British victory over the Irish – the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The date – especially the 12th of July on the current calendar – is a crucial element in Protestant identity, anchoring a belonging to United Kingdom. The turrets, often surpassing 40 meters in height, are set alight during a portentous celebration culminating at midnight on the 11th into the 12th of July. This often leads to additional tensions between the Protestants and Catholics during the summer “marching season” of British Orangemen parades crossing the whole of Northern Ireland, a time already exceptionally overwrought with apprehension.

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One of the youngest Brits on Belfast’s Upper Shankill. The youngest builders are 5 or 6-year-olds: for them this is a playground and a place to hang out with friends. The most engaged constructors daily spend several hours or over half a day on this; sometimes they already begin mustering up materials in January: wooden pallets, furniture or anything which can be set afire. Everything is gathered not far from the target site on which the towers will arise.

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South Belfast bonfire located next to busy ring road.

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14-year-old boy is one of hundreds of youngsters in Northern Ireland who build bonfires year after year; this is his third in a row. Most of the material comes from local residents and businesses who sponsor its purchase and transport; in this case the wood has been delivered by former members of a British paramilitary organisation in Northern Belfast. Dozens of bonfires are organised in Belfast itself, out of the hundreds built in Loyalist neighbourhoods across Northern Ireland. Each such district can apply to the local City Council for financial subsidies to cover the costs of organising these events.

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Bonfire field, for the youths this is a playground and a place to hang out with friends and socialize.

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Bonfire field, for the youths this is a playground and a place to hang out with friends and socialize.

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Bonfire field, for the youths this is a playground and a place to hang out with friends and socialize.

Bonfire field, for the youths this is a playground and a place to hang out with friends and socialize.

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Restorative Justice NGO workers visiting bonfire at the most difficult districts controlled by active British illegal paramilitary groups. The NGO project is primarily focused on the youth from the most difficult neighbourhoods, children of parents who had been directly involved in the violence of “The Troubles.”

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KAT graffiti at the bonfire site.
In the context of sectarianism in Northern Ireland, the term "Taig" is used as a derogatory term for a Roman Catholic, used by Northern Irish Protestants and Ulster loyalists. ... Extremist loyalists have also used slogans such as "Kill All Taigs" (KAT)

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South Belfast bonfire.

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South Belfast, bonfire at the district controlled by UDA.

The most engaged builders, mostly youths (10-17 years old) and kids, daily spend several hours or over half a day on this; sometimes they already begin mustering up materials in January: wooden pallets, furniture or anything which can be set afire. Everything is gathered not far from the target site on which the towers will arise. Dozens tones of used tires, mostly form British private companies are burned at the bonfires every year.

Boy playing around bonfire site.

Bonfire night Party. DJ playing music with sectarian lyrics like “Kill all Taigs” ("Taig", is used as a derogatory term for a Roman Catholic), “Fuck the Pope” and many other. Bonfire night event is full of British youth singing the most popular sectarian songs.

The turrets, often surpassing 40 meters in height, are set alight during a portentous celebration culminating at midnight on the 11th into the 12th of July accompanied by sectarian music in front of crowd of hundreds loyalists.

British youth playing golf at the bonfire site.

Bonfire field, for the youths this is a playground and a place to hang out with friends and socialize.

Most bonfire sites are managed, controlled and protected by British illegal paramilitary groups.

Many bonfires across Northern Ireland burn Irish flags each year which, from a loyalist perspective, are a symbol of the IRA which had been supported by Ireland during The Troubles. Other symbols referring to the Republic of Ireland often also appear. The bonfires are seen, from an Irish perspective, as sectarian. In the years 2014-2016 – counting only those officially reported to the police – there were 2,044 sectarian crimes and 1,773 racist hate crimes.