Three years ago as part of an organised tour that looked at the history around 1690 and then took in bonfires, parades and even the field, I ended up in King George V Playing Fields after midnight to witness the big East Belfast bonfire.
Late this afternoon I talked to Rob about the construction effort that has gone into this year’s bonfire at that site. The guys were putting the final pallets on the top and ‘decorating’ the bonfire with various flags.
It wasn’t intended to be a thorough discussion of the pros and cons of bonfires, burning effigies, flags and the associated festivities. More a chance to hear about what goes into building a bonfire that size and that stays relatively safe.
It’s taken a team of “25 or 30 people” to build this one over the last seven days. It’s a bit like a wedding cake, with layers of different circumferences stacked on top of each other. A layer of pallets around the outside – heaviest ones at the bottom – with cable drums and looser scrap timber packed into the heart.
It’ll be lit as close to the top as possible so it burns from the top down, and while it will shrink in size over the night, it’ll be smouldering for the next day or so. Five or six thousand people are expected in the playing fields.
Rob explained a bit about the use of tyres – they’re double the height of the pallets so helps with height, particularly when pallets are in short supply. This bonfire is one of the few in Belfast that’s not working with Belfast City Council’s management scheme.
They’re not going to be bought off, they’re not going to be told what to do by council or by anybody else. This is a community-driven thing … I think what you’ll find is that tyres are phasing out, so I think that’ll go – natural wasteage – that tyres will probably phase themselves out. [So] you’re not really looking council money to buy your tyres off you.
Flags is always an emotive issue. People will always say, why are you burning the Tricolour? why are you burning the flag of another country? We have had peace here for quite some time, but Sinn Fein have never let off that their aim is a United Ireland. So whenever you see the like of the Tricolour flying in various other areas … that’s why it’s on the bonfire.
[Alan: If the shoe was on the other foot? If there was a Republican bonfire with a Union Flag at the top?]
That’s happened at every Republican bonfire I’ve ever known. At the end of the day, 14th, 15th of August, there will be flags burnt … and you just cope with it, deal with it. It’s one night, move on.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.