Before any of my readers panic thinking they have slept Rip van Winkle-like through to the 5th of November I don't mean that bonfire night. It is the eleventh night, one of those traditions of the twelve fortnight in July. Yeah the Northern Irish have a twelve fortnight in a 31 day month and not due to being bad mathematicians.
Every year in the loyalist areas of Northern Ireland piles of burnable material starts to emerge into the open air in late June early July. Often nearby a sofa will also appear so that those that end up 'guarding' and building the wood etc into a stack have somewhere to sit. Sometimes these stacks will tower over the nearby houses. But on occasion they are taken down to form barricades when things get really heated in the marching season. Instead of a guy there is often a Celtic shirt, or Irish tricolour or some other symbol of Catholicism on top of the pile when the touchpaper is lit.
Not all of this burnable material is often environmentally sound as often old tyres and other plastics are found in the stack. The noxious fumes can come from the fire well into the 13th on occasion. The fires have long been a symbol of strength by the Loyalist side of the community followed by the noise and colour of the banners at the marches to follow normally the next day, unless the sabbath intervenes. So often seen as a dividing, harmful emblem rather than one of the renewal that Northern Ireland is trying to undergo.
However, this year Belfast City Council, in conjunction with the Conflict Transformation Initiative, are promoting a new friendship beacon initiative. There will be six willow beacons across the city this year, including one encouraging in the Lower Shankhill, after a trail one last year in the troubled Woodvale area. Willow is used as the wood cut from a willow with fully restore itself by the following year making it carbon renewable. The aim is to make it a family and community friendly gathering which is both environmentally and socially responsible. Of course 6 beacons of hope for a new start is just a splash in the ocean, but it is a step in the right direction.