A desecrated statue of the Virgin Mary has come to symbolise the hatred displayed by loyalists this year in their intimidatory ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires.
The face of the three-foot statue had been roughly hacked off in a deliberate insult which recalled the ancient persecution of Christians. Amid an outcry, the statue was subsequently removed from the bonfire at the Lanark Way interface in west Belfast.
However, nationalist politicians were again burned in effigy, as well as other symbols of Irishness and Catholicism.
Death threats targeting nationalist politicians such as the SDLP’s John Dallat were placed on top of a loyalist bonfire in Garvagh, County Derry.
In Rathcoole, a figure was hung from a noose before a sign that read ‘Sinn Fein political policing’.
Irish flags and Palestinian flags were also burned on the bonfires, while graffiti reading ‘KAT’ -- Kill All Taigs [Catholics] -- was daubed on bonfires and elsewhere.
In Sandy Row near Belfast city centre, a Cliftonville football shirt had been attached to the bonfire, which also had a mannequin posed on top dressed in Papal-style clothing. A papal flag were also burned in a bonfire in east Belfast.
One of the largest bonfires in the north collapsed the day before it was to be set ablaze in the middle of a loyalist housing estate in Ballycraigy. The massive pyre, which includes hundreds of tyres and pallets, began subsiding on Monday and finally caved in on Wednesday. Diggers were used to rebuild it before it was set ablaze on Thursday night.
Earlier this week, a man was doused in petrol and beaten with hammers and baseball bats after being lured to a bonfire site in Belfast, the High Court has heard.
Up to 15 men attacked him and tried to drag him out of a car which was then set alight, prosecutors said. The victim, who has not been named, managed to flee as the mob continued to reign blows on him.
Nevertheless, there were few reports of sectarian violence last night. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said that it had been one of the quietest Eleventh nights in a number of years.
“So from a nationalist’s point of view, we’re off to a good start to the Twelfth,” he said.