The Dublin Diaries: It’s Bonfire Season
By Margaret Mary Hicks
As the Loyalist holiday, “Eleventh Night,” approaches on July 11. I want to share with you an experience I had last year when I traveled up to Derry for a weekend.
I had never before heard of the bonfires that are typically seen in Northern Ireland during Catholic and Protestant holidays, but I unknowingly booked a vacation with a few friends during the weekend of the Assumption of Mary, a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation. After a wonderful tour of the Bogside, a historically Catholic area known to the world as the location of the Bloody Sunday Massacre, our tour guide invited us to join in their bonfire celebrations happening that evening.
Bonfires as I had known them in Ohio were in the woods or the beach, sitting on logs around a small fire and telling stories, with maybe a few marshmallows roasting and beers to go around. However, this bonfire was quite different.
In the middle of the street was a huge tower of wood pallets, reaching higher than many of the buildings and houses around it. It was adorned with flags of the world’s biggest colonizers, at the forefront was the Union Jack. This was very intriguing to me, as I have had an interest in the history of Northern Ireland conflicts and The Troubles since high school.
Upon a closer look, my American friends pointed out the American flag next to the Israeli flag, which was, in my understanding, an attempt to point out the U.S.’s involvement and funding in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was a very outward protest of worldwide colonization, which I was a little on edge about. As we watched the tower burn from the hill, we tried to speak quietly and avoided being identified as Americans, even though they could probably tell by just looking at us.
Despite the small fear that we could possibly be in some kind of danger, it was an experience I will never forget. I felt a lot of tension while watching, but since this seemed to be a common occasion there, we wanted to immerse ourselves in the experience as much as possible.
The bonfire tradition is not only a Catholic celebration, but one that has its roots in many other countries and cultures, with bonfire nights in Scandinavia, Portugal, Spain and Denmark, among others. These bonfires are also usually accompanied by firework shows and sometimes include foods such as toffee apples, jacket potatoes and marshmallows.
Bonfire Night in Northern Ireland
The next bonfire night in Northern Ireland will be for the Eleventh Night. This is a yearly Ulster Protestant celebration, where bonfires are lit throughout Northern Ireland. This celebration signifies a Protestant win in the Battle of the Boyne, a 1690 battle between Protestant King William of Orange and Catholic King James II. Many historians say this victory is the beginning of the Ulster Protestant rise to power in Northern Ireland.
While often considered a controversial part of life in Northern Ireland, bonfire nights are a big part of Northern Irish culture, with both Protestants and Catholics celebrating their independence in their own respective values and views.
While my knowledge on this topic is limited, I found these celebrations to be very fascinating and I hope you learned a bit about Northern Ireland’s bonfire nights. Have you ever experienced a Northern Irish bonfire celebration? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Share your experience with us at [email protected]
Slán go fóill,
*Margaret Mary is a recent graduate of Trinity College Dublin, where she received a MSc. in Marketing.
From Cleveland, Ohio, she is an alumna of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
To keep up with her adventures abroad, follow @margamary on Instagram.