A poem for the day… Bonfire Makers

Mick has generously let me take up his offer to guest bloggers a while back, and the idea is that, a la Moochin Photoman, I’d post a poem a day for the month of August, with the odd book review or other more or less ‘cultural’ item thrown in. In deference to the appetites of Slugger’s bloggers and commenters, I’ll probably draw on my more ‘political’ poems – and I suppose raise two questions. First, do the creative arts have much to contribute to our local political conversation? And then, how do poems written here deal with the saturation of our local English with political meaning? Anyhoo … to get the ball rolling, here’s one from the mid-90s…

Bonfire Makers

start young, with a kind of architecture:
their flammable one-room shanties
dot the demolition sites and crossroads, Dada
haystacks, invitations to lightning.

All night sharp faces keep their eyes peeled.
All day they go collecting door-to-door
the inciendiary trash of the streets –
forklift pallets, truck tyres, furniture.

With their nose for what catches,
their instinct for ritual and sense of timing,
they gather it all into the old charred circle,
its birthmark. Then burn it down.

, ,

  • Local hack

    Reminds me of times when the bonie was a pile of rubbish collected from all and sundry in the estate – there was everything from the sofa to the fridge – it was a great way to find out how things burned.

    Now its all about size, such is life, they will only accept tyres and pallets – sign of the times.

    Isn’t it incredible that in some of the areas with the highest unemployment levels they can build the biggest and most stable bonfires you ever saw, there has got to be at least some degress of planning involved.

  • Even though the piece is an attempt to be derogatory and thought provoking, as a Loyalist and a ‘bonfire builder’ when younger, i dont find it overly offensive.

    It is a ritual, almost a rite of passage, for young Protestants/ Loyalists in Northern Ireland. Its centurys old, and is as much to do with a sense of communal pride, identity and unity, as the ‘remembrance’ function of the practise.

  • wee buns

    I like ‘Dada haystacks’.

    the idea of a poetry blog is interesting, but any particular reason why the author has been omitted?

  • sonofstrongbow

    If you throw doggerel on the fire does it go woof?

  • Quincy, there was no derogatory intent at all: as a kid, I chucked the odd coffee table on a bonfire myself. But ‘thought provoking’ – well, that’d be great. Glad you found it interesting at some level.

    Wee buns, it’s all my own work I’m afraid! (Though I might post a few by other poets working here as the month goes by.)


  • Dullypicker

    Interesting illustration, Coincidental timing too, as the Bonfire is no doubt beginning to take shape in the Fountain Estate in Londonderry, in preparation for the “Relief of Derry” celebrations to commemorate Cpt. Michael Browning breaking the ‘boom’ across the Foyle with his ship the “Mountjoy”, thus relieving the inhabitants of the city and ending the famous Siege of 1689.

    Building bonfires is indeed a right of passage for many young lads across Northern Ireland, a great sense of unity and comradeship when building such magnificent sculptures and pride when they go up with a whoosh a crackle and a cheer.

    Many a fond memory of summers past.

    Just one thing though @Local hack: Tyres are a big no no these days, even the gruffest of loyalist, must now think of the environment and poor old mother nature.

  • TwilightoftheProds

    Great wee poem, a well observed piece.

    Anybody know of any other bonfire poems? Heaney wrote one called ‘Intimidation’ in which Mooney’s ‘bonfire makers’ are referred to by the unnamed protagonist as ‘ghetto rats’, ‘streaming’ through the streets – and notes the irony that its them doing the ‘smoking out ‘ rather than t’other way round.

    Always uncomfortable with that poem – could have been crafted better. European history has a bad track record in comparing communities to vermin.

    Look forward to more of Mr Mooney’s poems.

  • carl marks

    Dullypicker says
    “Just one thing though @Local hack: Tyres are a big no no these days, even the gruffest of loyalist, must now think of the environment and poor old mother nature.”

    take it you didnt see many of the bonfires built this year no shortage of tyres and no shortage of gruff loyalist,s to burn them

  • Joxer

    Had the local provo/sinn fein “reps” in work today, Under no circumstances can we give pallets to the local youth for their internment fire, they are not having one its that simple, too much hassle was the explanation given, have to get rid of them from now untill next tuesday when its all over.

  • Dullypicker

    Carl marks, I’m not saying that there are no tyres on any bonfire across the country. I’m only one man and couldn’t possibly make it to them all to know, clearly not the ones you were at anyway. but I know atleast in Co.Down, initiatives have been running for a few years whereby tyres have been outlawed and in some areas funding has been provided for the use of beacons, removing bonfires altogether, and they’re no fun for anyone, gruff loyalist or otherwise.

  • tacapall

    Dullypicker do you believe the orginisers and those who encourage them should be resposible for the damage to public and private property that is destroyed annually. Should the costs of the clean-up operations by the city council of the debris and destruction that ensues after this annual event be shared by the rest of the population who have evolved enough to understand that this type of culture is not only bad for “our” environment but is dangerous and unneccessary in the 21st century.

  • wee buns

    Apologies for addressing you as Brian (huh? – amazed even myself with that blunder but was in a rush!) And sorry also for slow cop on, that you are indeed the poet. Look forward to enjoying your work and browsing your blog when time permits. The Bonfire poem is great and particularly strong with the no mess ending. If I had to pick one most compelling image I’d be torn between the haystacks and the birthmark.

  • Wee Buns, I’ve been called worse things than ‘Brian’. ‘No mess’ probably sums up the aspiration of any poem. Cheers!

  • pippakin

    Excellent idea but why keep it political all the time? surely there’s room for a little diversity? Btw I liked the poem I thought it evocative.

  • Dullypicker

    Tacapall, i believe they already are responsible. Bonfires, as with everything related to the protestant marching culture have become an altogether different beast from years gone by. As with parades coming under increasing restrictions and regulations which must be complied with, bonfires are now under equal scrutiny. As I have said, initiatives have been in place for several years whereby communities must work closely with local councils to make sure that health and safety regulations are followed along with accountability for any issues that may arise, be they damage to property or social order. Many bonfires are now run as part of a wider community event and ‘fun day’ with bouncy castles, face painting, fancy dress parades and burger stands etc. culminating in a very controlled and measured bonfire in a designated area. Also, as I have mentioned above, in some cases, councils have negotiated further to eradicate bonfires completely, in favour of Beacons. You have this fanciful notion of “Debris and Destruction” as you put it, but this is simply not the case, yes a Bonfire by its very nature is Destructive and will leave a charred remains, but in a designated area in complete agreement with local community groups and local council, and the Debris you speak of seems to be part and parcel with every gathering of human beings, be it Sporting Events or Villages Fairs of Fleadh’s, St.Patricks Day or Music Festivals, regardless of Faith or political persuasion. Is it the Protestant Culture that is “Dangerous and Unnecessary” in your eyes? As I believe the manner in which it is celebrated cannot now be deemed “Dangerous” and is certainly not “Unnecessary”, but actually something to be proud of and excitedly anticipated year on year.

  • Alan N/Ards


    Like yourself I would have thrown a few things on the bonies as a kid in Newtownards. That was many years ago (70’s) yet I still see people my age building bonfires before the 12th.
    I was in France on Bastille day and spent Bastille night on a beach watching a firework display in the neighbouring town. My kids, who have never been near a bonfire, absolutely loved it. Maybe this is the way people from the loyalist community could celebrate the 11th night.

    Looking forward to more of your poems.

  • Alan, Ards in the 70s is the setting for quite a few of the poems in my books: you may recognise some stuff in things posted here over the next few weeks!