Competing claims over Derry bonfire


A nationalist bonfire went ahead in Derry last weekend following an agreement to relocate the fire away from a main road.

Young people formed a human chain to move the flammable material after a deal emerged to quell a dispute between Sinn Fein and the ‘Bogside Republican Youth’ which threatened to escalate out of control.

The Irish bonfire tradition of Lughnasa has ancient roots dating back to Celtic times. Following Christianisation, bonfires were lit on August 15 on the Catholic feast day celebrating the assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. In the North they came to mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment, but in latter years these have been linked with sectarian displays and anti-social activity.

In rural areas, small nationalist bonfires went ahead without incident earlier this month. But when materials for bonfires were removed by the city council in Belfast, rioting erupted over perceived discrimination relative to the treatment of unionist ‘Eleventh Night’ pyres.

Derry’s main nationalist bonfire last weekend was originally constructed at the bottom of the city’s main flyover, causing significant traffic disruption. Many residents in the nationalist Bogside were opposed to it.

Tensions rose when the youths warned they would destroy the historic ‘Free Derry Wall’ if their bonfire material was removed. However, an intervention by Saoradh and a local political centre, Junior McDaid House, saw the bonfire ultimately moved to an embankment with no tyres or electoral placards burned, although some unionist flags and symbols were.

A large crowd attended the bonfire which passed off without major incident, other than a brief exchange of missiles involving a number loyalists who had gathered on Derry’s walls. The PSNI police were accused of facilitating the trouble which followed a similar incident the previous afternoon.

Local Sinn Fein councillor Patricia Logue condemned the missile-throwing.

“The local community does not want these attacks and those responsible have nothing to offer,” she said.

“We know all too well what happens at these type of bonfires and we are opposed to the burning of flags and posters on bonfires and associated hate crimes.”

A spokesman for Junior McDaid House said it had worked to prevent more serious trouble. They backed claims that anti-social activity was being orchestrated by those trying to jeopardise the independent bonfire, and that the young people were being criminalised.

“The youth involved in building the fire who have entered dialogue with Junior McDaid House are asking that anyone intent on causing trouble stay away,” they said.

Saoradh said the bonfire was bring used to mark British internment, and pointed out that an agreement to clean up the area afterwards had been honoured.

“The reality is that in Ireland today internment is being used North and South against Republicans who refuse to follow the status quo,” they said.

“Locally we have Tony Taylor ripped away from his family. In Dublin, Saoradhs Kevin Braney and Ciaran Maguire found themselves remanded with no evidence provided.

“In our developing relationship with the youth, it was clear that there is a trust issue with the establishment parties/PSNI. They feel criminalised and marginalised. The youth accept that anti social activity around the fire in recent times was used by those who are from an anti-bonfire persuasion.

“The talks around the fire broke down on many issues. Again lack of trust and feeling lied to were reasons put forward by the young people. So the youth, as expected, dug their heels in. But after dialogue and engagement with Saoradh, they have agreed in our eyes to a mature and sensible way forward.”

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