Protestant hardliners have been piling crates to heights of more than 80 feet in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to create massive flammable structures in a centuries-old religious celebration. The structures will be set alight at midnight on Friday.
Hundreds of fires will be started on what is known as ‘11th Night’, as the protestant groups – members of fraternal organization the ‘Orange Order’ known as ‘Orangemen’ – gather to celebrate “the Twelfth.”
The celebration commemorates the Revolution of 1688 and the victory of the Dutch Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholic King of England James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
The victory celebrations have been taking place for more than two centuries, during which Orangemen march under union flags and banners depicting a crown sitting on top of a Bible. William is regarded as a defender of their religious freedom.
Northern Irish political party, the Protestant Coalition, congratulated the constructors of the bonfires on their commitment and the dizzy heights they had achieved. They deemed one of the sites, Lanark Way, the best.
“Well done to all involved in collecting and building Lanark way bonfire - it has to be the best one in Northern Ireland and the tallest one yet - we give credit where credit is due,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.
The Lanark Way bonfire in Belfast was estimated to stand at 76 feet and has already caused some controversy after a statue of the Virgin Mary, believed to have been stolen from a memorial to a local suicide victim, was placed on the crates.
Another structure, on Belfasts’ Shankill estates is estimated to stretch more than 82 feet into the sky.
The event hasn’t always passed without friction, especially given Northern Ireland’s fraught sectarian past.
Last year, protesters sang anti-Catholic songs amid bottle throwing and altercations with police. The uproar resulted in at least two arrests.
The Parades Commission has already banned a return parade through an area deemed ‘contentious’ – the Ardoyne – where parades have been banned in previous years to minimize contact with Catholic communities.
Grand Secretary Drew Nelson stated on Sunday: “This year's misguided decisions by the commission have brought into sharp focus their unwillingness to stand up to persistent threats of physical force protest, or indeed violence, by nationalists and republicans opposed to our parades.”
“Protests will take place all over the country against the above decision but we would ask those who will be attending them to remain calm and keep them peaceful,” the Protestant Coalition responded in a statement on its Facebook page.
Ardoyne has been fraught with violence following Twelfth parades every year since 2009. The conflicts have involved the burning of vehicles and gunfire from IRA members.
The ongoing friction demonstrates how IRA splinter groups continue to maintain a presence despite the official disarmament in 2005 and abandonment of the 1970-1997 campaign.