Two loyalist ‘Eleventh Night’ bonfires have been prematurely set ablaze, igniting a blame game over who may be responsible.
One huge bonfire, situated beside Days Hotel in the Sandy Row, had been built from around 1,000 wooden pallets. It was one of hundreds being prepared for next month’s loyalist displays on the eve of the ‘Twelfth’, the height of the Protestant marching season. But it began burning at around 9.30am on Thursday morning, sending a huge cloud of thick black smoke into the air over Belfast city centre.
The intense heat from the burning wood and other combustible material cracked windows in nearby buildings as bewildered hotel guests, many from overseas, watched on.
On Friday, a bonfire in Lisburn was also lit prematurely, infuriating loyalist paramilitaries there. Some blamed nationalists, but others pointed to recent feuding and reported ‘jealousy’ over the size of bonfires.
Tensions have been high in loyalist circles following an attack on two brothers during a loyalist band parade in Belfast city centre last weekend.
There was havoc when up to a dozen uniformed loyalist bandsmen suddenly attacked two rivals on Saturday night. Eyewitnesses reported that a group of uniformed bandsmen assaulted the men, with the head of one of the victims “bashed into the side of a taxi”.
One of those attacked suffered serious head injuries in the assault close to PSNI police stationed near Shaftesbury Square, while his brother was treated for facial wounds.
The attack happened during a ‘band competition’ involving over 50 hardline loyalist flute bands. For reasons which have not been revealed, a group of bandsmen targeted the two men as they stood outside a kebab shop watching the parade.
“One of them had his head bashed into the side of a taxi, which was dented in,” an eyewitness said. “When the paramedics arrived you could see that he was unconscious, he was lying on the ground. The younger one had ended up around the corner and he was put into a neck brace.”
SDLP councillor Declan Boyle questioned how the attack could take place so close to police. “If it was within view of police officers, why did they not act accordingly?” he said.