One of these images is a view from my apartment block on bonfire night 2014… one of these is a scene from 2004 zombie-flick Dawn of the Dead…
The entire area becomes uninhabitable for the night, you physically cannot leave your house unless you’re willing to navigate your way through crowds of overly-intoxicated, often threatening bonfire attendees, if a resident was to have a medical emergency, the consequence doesn’t bear thinking about. This isn’t culture. This is a riot.
The bonfire site itself is on private land which until last year was a surface car park, prior to the 2014 event the car park ceased trading, with concrete blocks placed at the entrances and exits. I asked the driver of a lorry delivering the blocks what had happened as the car park always seemed busy, he told me that the company wouldn’t put up with the damage to the facility each year and giving up around one third of its property for the summer months.
The bonfire has year on year damaged my apartment building, the heat cracking panes of glass in apartments and in the foyer of the building, the building management agent has to hire private security for the apartment building after one year when a large group of drunken revellers followed a resident through the front entrance and caused not insignificant damage to the lobby, the lifts and in the internal garage.
Here is a picture of that glorious moment that elicits raucous cheers from those attending and fear from those in nearby properties. I believe if memory serves that this is from 2012, and here’s a video of the same year.
This is what bonfire night is to me.
It isn’t a celebration of culture. It is an excuse to run amok, knowing full well that the police dare not fully intervene unless absolutely necessary for fear of causing a much bigger issue to develop. Last year I had someone selling drugs underneath my balcony and no end of people urinating against the building directly underneath my and every other window in the building… when the police were called, nothing was being done for fear of exacerbating the situation, and if we’re honest… how would they know which reveller to arrest if they did arrive.
This site in particular is directly next to Days Hotel, and within full view of at least 2 other large-occupancy hotels, it is probably the closest bonfire to Belfast city centre, and what a way to promote our city. within 60 seconds of arriving at Northern Ireland’s busiest railway station, you are currently faced with this:
Which, if last year is anything to go by, will very shortly come to look like this, 2014’s bonfire.
This is from 2013,
Anyone heading to the south of the city on Great Victoria Street will see this wonderful display of culture.
We are constantly being berated with the soundbite of the PUL community being under attack, feeling like the culture isn’t being respected, that the PSNI/assembly/council/parades commission/insert other offender here [delete as appropriate] are oppressing the right to express culture and history. Well isn’t that nice and ironic.
This isn’t a case of me being a NIMBY, I feel it should not be in ANYONE’s backyard. If bonfires are culturally and historically significant (something I’ve yet to come to understand) then hold them on land that the bonfire operators own, not on public land or someone else’s private land.
This is an excuse for drunken sectarianism for the most part and criminal damage en masse. I suppose the PUL community who do undertake this “tradition” feel it’s fine to pollute through burning wood/furniture/tyres etc because if they didn’t, they would be considered green.
It’s because of events like this that I find it harder and harder to see anything with that community that I recognise. That community that I grew up in, I remember playing amongst the pallets and the giant wooden cable spindles in orangefield park before the bonfire was assembled, and it mortifies me how that may have made people feel. There was an assisted living community just over the dual carriageway from the bonfire site, how did the actions of 10 year old me and everyone else involved contribute to vulnerable people not feeling safe in their own homes. I’m neither frail or infirm but I don’t feel safe in my own home on bonfire night. Last year when I attempted to take this picture
I was politely informed by a drunken local below that, and I’m paraphrasing here, it might be preferable for me to return inside my apartment or perhaps I would be on the receiving end of a gunshot wound. How wonderful this culture is, we should definitely all rally round and support those in the community who perpetrate this mass civil disorder.
If the PUL community want wider society to stop viewing them as miscreants with little better to do than protest/riot/rinse/repeat, perhaps they should get their own house in order first.
Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.