A North Belfast community trying to move away from the paramilitary trappings and alcohol consumption typically associated with eleventh night bonfires held their family fun day and beacon lighting last week.
The Tigers Bay community held a day of celebration in their local park last Wednesday before lighting their environmentally friendly beacon early in the evening. The community was one of eight across North Belfast who signed up to Belfast City Council’s bonfire protocol which stated that communities who are eligible for funding must agree not to collect material before a certain date, tyres should not be burnt, the communities should not display sectarian or paramilitary trappings on or in the vicinity of the bonfire site and communities on the programme will ensure that there will be no paramilitary shows of strength at bonfires.
Community worker in the area John Howcroft gave the North Belfast News a tour of the family fun day in the hours leading up to the lighting of the beacon.
The Tigers Bay eleventh celebrations were a far cry from other widely publicised bonfires last week that featured Tricolours, Polish flags, nationalist election posters and, on one sinister pyre in New Mossley, a white coffin.
Instead the Tigers Bay focus was on the family with face painters, a petting zoo and bouncy castle there for the children to enjoy.
John Howcroft said people in the area did not want an annual “anti-social fest”.
“The original bonfire in Tigers Bay was in the Adam Street area which is at an interface where Groundwork Northern Ireland and several local businesses are located,” he said.
“It was a scene of contention to nationalists as well as Protestant people in the area who weren’t happy with the anti-social behaviour that takes place.
“This new beacon has moved away from the interface on the North Queen Street. It is a completely alcohol-free event, we have community safety marshals on the day who are trained in child protection and it is a very family-friendly day.”
He said the unionist community is moving away from the day when the eleventh night bonfire was about creating a hotspot for anti-social behaviour and offensive anti-Catholic messages.
“This is celebrating culture in a positive and welcoming manner. It is very well attended with young families from the area coming along to enjoy the day,” he said.
“Burning flags is not something we want to be doing here. We want this to be somewhere the whole family can come and enjoy. And, as you can see that is what is happening.”
The Twelfth beacon was lit in the late evening in time for the children in the area to watch. The beacon is based around a metal frame shaped like a pyramid and filled with willow bark and wood. It is restricted in size to facilitate a bonfire in a restricted space.
“It isn’t a late night where people sit and drink, something which inevitably leads to fighting,” said John.
“This is an alternative place where the kids can see the beacon being lit and then the families can go home.”