Boys and young men who would once be proud builders of World-class Ocean liners are now relegated to building bonfires…

We all felt sorry for the articulate young man whose apartment near Sandyrow was damaged by an 11th Night bonfire.   He, sensibly, didn’t want to be recognised so the interview was done off camera.   He wanted to live in safety, he wanted compensation for the damage but above all he didn’t want to annoy anyone or interfere with “cultural expression”.   These seem reasonable middle-class values and who could argue with them?  His neighbour, a thirty-something woman, equally articulate, praised the Sandyrow area as “a brilliant place to live; on 11 months of the year”.  These upbeat young people see the future potential for Belfast and for the Sandyrow area which is probably why they bought and chose to live in these modern apartments.  You could almost hear them saying that gentrification will be complete – and my asset improving in value – if only the natives would stop getting restless every July.

The MP for the area Emma Little-Pengelly was wonderfully reassuring suggesting something to the effect that insurance was merely a procedural matter and would, in some way, or by some means, pay for the damage.   This reassurance was vital as the NIO had earlier in the day sharply rebuked any suggestion from residents they were responsible as they had been during the dark days of the Troubles.  The middle-classes were in agreement the problem can be sorted out.

There was off course another bonfire related issue; the mysterious case of the missing pallets and the role of Belfast City Council.   If there was a deal, there was a justifiable sense of betrayal among bonfire builders when this deal was not delivered.  They were less articulate than the young apartment block residents but they got their message across.   A Council car park was commandeered and nearby at an island of literary culture twelve Belfast Bicycles decommissioned; sorry perhaps that was just a coincidence.

So we got through another 11th Night in Belfast and can pretend for another 11 months at least that things are fine.

Jenny McCartney, originally from these shores, writing in the Spectator – a publication as far away culturally and geographically as you can get from Sandyrow – makes a number of insightful points about the bonfire culture.  She believes that the Belfast Bonfire Culture has gone beyond a cultural expression to “…one of defiance and despair among working class Protestants who feel abandoned by the rest of the UK.”

Boys and young men who would once be proud builders of World-class Ocean liners are now relegated to building bonfires.  We know the level of social deprivation across Belfast is obscene generally and it is particularly significant among young protestant men.  This is toxic to health and wellbeing and that’s why this cohort in our society is likely to die 11 years before they should and are more likely live with a long-term condition such as; cancer, heart disease, diabetes and mental health problems.

They lack the right kind of leadership.  With the exception of people like Dr John Kyle their politicians tend to treat them poorly and often with contempt; some arrogantly treat them as mere useful idiots.  Both DUP and UU politicians have been generally silent on the matter of bonfires and flags.  Indeed Jenny McCartney rightly criticises Emma Little-Pengelly for responding limply to concerns about flag flying in shared housing estates.

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  • KeithBelfast

    What an arrogant assumption to make that those in the flats are middle class.

  • Nevin

    Sandyrow? I’m not from Belfast but I’ve travelled along Sandy Row!

    I’ve read Jenny’s article and noted that she referenced the influence and appeasement of loyalist and republican paramilitaries, including the notorious Athboy conspiracy. Selective quotations have misrepresented her viewpoint.

    The Parades Commission gets a fleeting mention by Jenny as a regulator – but got itself into a tangle last year when its secretariat initially revealed the truth and then attempted to back-track.

    The appeasement approach by governments has reinforced the control exercised by loyalist and republican paramilitaries and the macho-style response to finger-pointing is unfortunately likely to make matters worse.

  • ted hagan

    There are very many young folk in loyalist areas who are working hard pursuing aprenticeships and good careers and not pestering their neighbours with giant bonfires. They, of course, don’t get a mention. Time for politicians to stop mollycoddling these ‘poor unfortunate’ bonfire builders and paramilitaries who provoke this annual upheaval. .

  • Brian O’Neill

    He did not say that. He was referring to a specific resident.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Great that a Falls Road man knows so much about Loyalist Bonfires ? I tend to believe this guy from Sandy Row ! https//:telawrenceblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/the-loyalist-bonfires/

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    The UK is full of areas that have suffered since de-industrialisation, many areas in Glasgow are little better (if not a lot worse!) off than Sandy Row.

    This is how Strathclyde police dealt with an over zealous bonfire crowd: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12475614.Police_and_firefighters_under_attack_in_bonfire_night_riot/

    In summary; fire brigade attacked. Strathclyde police move in. They can’t handle it and retreat.
    Shortly thereafter 50 heavily equipped police move in (supported by a helicopter) and enforce calm upon the citizenry.

    Order restored.

    There were no politicians sticking up for them.

    There was no one interpreting it as a ‘social act of defiance’.

    That’s what we need in NI.

    ‘Have your bonfires and have fun. Cross the line and the bonfire is out.’

    Simples.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Nev, you must be chuffed that she mentioned Athboy!?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Quite right Ted, it’s seemingly everyone else’s fault except that of the offenders.

  • Nevin

    AG, careful now; you might upset the ‘Friends of Gerry’!

  • Nevin

    AG, this clearing of the streets by the police went down without major repercussions in Dublin in 1966 but didn’t turn out so well in Derry in 1968.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    The beginning of this article makes a couple of foolish assumptions.

    1: that anyone who can speak “eloquently” to the press is middle class.

    2: that living in that apartment building (or owning, for that matter), is middle class.

    The heavy inference throughout this piece is that the “working class loyalist” is incapable of speaking “eloquently” to the press, or of living in a place such as those apartments.

    Also, having read through a couple of times now… I’ve no idea whatsoever what this piece is trying to say. Does it have a point? A purpose? A premise, even?

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    The passage about gentrification being complete tells me otherwise.

  • Hawk

    Arlene Foster merely got photographed with Dee Stitt last year prompting outrage from virtue signallers and much exaggeration at the supposed ‘close links’ between loyalism and the DUP.

    Now many of those same virtues signallers are outraged that Unionists politicians are not showing enough leadership to the loyalist community.

    How exactly can political Unionism provide leadership if even the most tenuous links with loyalists are quickly ridiculed by cheap political opportunism? The culture of outrage is a major problem to political progress in this country.

  • Granni Trixie

    I don’t think you need specialist knowledge/experience of Loyalist bonfires to have emphathy and sympathy for families looking helplessly on whilst a bonfire is built higher and higher beside their flats. Then to keep their building safe on the big night, the fire brigade has to play hoses off their roof in order to keep them safe and even then there is damage done, damage probably not covered by insurance. Tell me TE, would you like to be one of those flat dwellers? It’s a distraction to imply that if you don’t mix in Loyalist circles you can’t grasp the problem or want to stand by your fellow citizen who has to put up with this sort of thing.

  • ted hagan

    Nothing to do with outrage and leadership and all to do with ‘respectable’ unionists courting loyalist voters in closely contested constituencies while appearing not to do so..

  • Granni Trixie

    I so agree with the sentiments and analysis in this post, thanks.

  • ted hagan

    Jenny McCartney, in her article, doesn’t seem to understand why some Catholics might have been justifiably annoyed at Orangemen parading through Catholics and, predictably, blames opposition to them on a ‘Sinn Fein propaganda campaign’, while harking back to the good old days when a ‘Catholic farmer would offer to tend their Protestant neighbour’s cattle on parade days’, and when her Catholic neighbours in leafy Belfast would come out to cheer on the valiant Orange parades.
    This is what she tells her posh London friends anyhow.
    Enough Jenny, enough. Before I scream.

  • Hawk

    So the controversy was nothing to do with the supposed links between the DUP and loyalists?

    That’s simply untrue.

    Even if we accept your spin, you still have to develop links to court their vote. The point remains the same.

  • Aodh Morrison

    There are lots of things to say about ‘gentrification’s’ impact on the existing community in areas that become identified as ‘up and coming’. I have friends living in London who bemoan the arrival of yet another hipster cafe; places where asking for a black coffee is met by a pause as the barista awaits the detail of the beverage requested to be forthcoming, and then only to roll their eyes as they realise that it’s simply a black coffee that’s wanted, no shots, no beans harvested under a full moon, roasted only by first-nation artisans who play the pan pipes to ensure that the spirit of the ancestors infuse the coffee – and that’ll still be £7:50, thanks.

    However having concerns about the construction of a towering inferno beside the tower that someone happens to live in has nothing whatsoever to do with the locals crashing the recently arrived “middle class’s” idyll.

    The stasis of the authorities in the face of out of control bonfires is depressing, yet understandable. They cannot see the pallets for the politics. The GFA was both fudge and appeasement. Paramilitaries (on both sides) morphed seamlessly into ‘community workers’, robust policing (as in Glasgow) was so yesterday (political/heavy handed policing anyone?) and of course the default position of grabbing at anything that could be used to beat the ‘other side’ remains too attractive and is symptomatic of the confrontational binary reality of society in NI.

    So the best the poor unfortunates who live beside the ‘boney’ are left with is ‘your insurance will pay’. Sure, maybe, perhaps, once; and only if they’re very lucky, and next renewal they’ll be paying a hugely inflated premium with a ‘no bonfire’ clause to boot.

  • ted hagan

    Aw, have you no pity, sir, for a poor, struggling, persecuted and neglected loyalist bonfire maker?

  • Aodh Morrison

    Pity? No.

    11th Night Bonfires are every bit as culturally honest as those on the 5th November, Up Helly Aa, and those others that particularly touch my Pagan heart, Bealtaine on Uisneach Hill is always a good night. Humans have had for millennia a fascination with fire as celebration.

    Of course loyalist bonfires, even if they were as environmentally friendly as a carbon extravaganza can ever be, would still attract the ire of some nationalists. In a deeply divided society any peg will be occupied by the tribal coat, be it orange or green, to get right into a faction fight.

    The risk to life and property, the pallet stacks, the tyres, the sectarian and political ‘decorations’ raise the Belfast City, and other locations, bonfires to a whole different level of wrongness. Those who build them show contempt for their own who live within the direct fallout zone of the edifices they build never mind anyone else.

    Signalling their ‘struggle’, ‘persecution’ and ‘neglect’ by means of a twenty metres high torch is just unacceptable. So I’m all out of pity. Sorry.

  • ted hagan

    Um, I was being ironic.

  • Aodh Morrison

    Yea I got that, along with everyone else I suspect.

    I just serve my contempt for the City pyromaniacs with a touch of ridicule on the side; for those out there who might think ‘pity’ is in anyway appropriate.

  • Kevin Breslin

    So we can’t steal Australian iron and build ships in the post imperial age.
    We’re going to have to deal with computer aided design engineering instead.

  • The worm!

    Even as someone who does a circuit of local bonfires on the 11th night, I’d happily go along with that.

    Why?, because that criteria wouldn’t impact one jot on any of the ones which I visit.

    As you say, simples!

  • the rich get richer

    Could they Build a Bonfire in the shape of a boat………

    Give us some Hope……….

  • james

    Not quite sure what you’re getting at there? Another permutation of the tired old ‘brits out’ sloganeering?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Thank you Mr Worm for getting the point, there are a few on here who see the criticism of the 11th night extremes as an attack on the 11th (and therefore the 12th) across the board which is of course a ridiculous conclusion.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    No doubt Nev but I see Sandy Row as more like a Glasgow area than a Dublin one.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It think it’s a hint at any perceived class war (most likely waged from below). Oh well at least the powerless have some power here unlike many of London’s LA tenants.

  • the rich get richer

    Building Boats in Harland and Wolff……..building boats…….cultural heritage…..show an ability to be a bit artistic …….

    Re yourself James , carefully reduce Tinfoil on head covering…. in stages……..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Why “might upset”, Nevin? I’d thought that Gerry wanted people to think of the PIRAs grass roots structure as some sort of universal spider whose threads of influence directed every aspect of what goes on. Surely his friends would be delighted that your advocacy of “the Athboy Conspiracy” theory entirely endorses the efficacy of his strategy by supporting this claim to the “authorship” of all and everything happening by the grass roots IRA activists whose work he lauded at Athboy.

    “Nothing happens by chance………..”

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I don’t see why they call it the ‘Athboy Conspiracy’, conspiracy has too many negative connotations, why not ‘Athboy Admission’ or ‘Athboy gloating session’?

  • murdockp

    I thing Sandy row stands alone. Nothing quite like it.

  • murdockp

    When nationalists struggled to get work they went and found it.

    Mum in Newry is fitting out ships all over the world. The lads and girls could have work but they just do t have the work ethic and managing them would be like heading cats.

    Sadly unemployment is now so culturally engrained I struggle to see what can be done.

  • murdockp

    If you were to chop up all the bonfire wood bag the wood and sell it as fire tinder across all the NI local shops each bonfire bulder would have a £40k annual salary.

    Instead the burn it in one go and plead poverty.

  • the rich get richer

    Nationalist were , by Northern Irish government actions encouraged to find work far far away……..So that they would not have any say in the government of the place they were born and very effective it was too……..

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Oh I was indeed one of those flat dwellers that lived at a corner house where the bonfire was lit at the street junction corner but unlike those flat dwellers I was a part of that community who would come and put doors up against my windows and we would also control the size and materials being burnt at any one time on the bonfire. I believe that communications is now under way with Sandy Row Community Forum by all concerned parties and I would be very surprised if the issue is not resolved once and for all to everyone’s satisfaction. As I have said before on the subject it will be the local communities themselves not ham fisted dictatorship proposals from SF at BCC that will resolve the issue. Maybe Sandy Row Community will get it’s funding reinstated for its 11th Night Children’s party which was spitefully removed from them at the last minute this year !

  • The worm!

    Well my “circuit of the bonfires” ends in somewhere which should actually be held up as an example to everyone, Ahoghill!

    The big traditional (and seriously damaging) bonfire in the Diamond in Ahoghill was the source of rioting in the mid/late 80’s due to attempts to shift it. But over the years and various stages we have moved to a situation where there is a fire held in the corner of a car park with plenty of room about it, no damage, and the Diamond itself now forms the centerpiece of the villages entry in “Britain in Bloom”, where it was described last year by the RHS themselves as “arguably the cleanest, greenest and most beautiful small town in the United Kingdom”.

    Not bad for somewhere that would be looked down on by those super intelligent people in Belfast. Sure what could they learn from us thick cultchies!

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I’m glad that channels of communication are being opened. Remember that comunication goes two ways though and all parties need to listen, comprehend and share information and experience. If all residents form ONE community with shared objectives, mutual respect and recognition of differences then that is the only way forward.
    It’s worth pointing out that communication is often absent from differing communities in NI so understanding can’t so easily come about. Opposition has its place but it’s usually supplanted by antagonism and overblown suspicion and that bizarrely tends escalate at each end of the habitually irreconcilable 2 way street that typifies this place.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    I am also glad that Sandy Row Community Forum is now involved in the issue as this group is highly respected within the community and deals with all politicians and statutory agencies. For this reason I am confident that a long term solution shall now be reached to the satisfaction of all concerned.

  • Granni Trixie

    That is grand if a resolution satisfactory to all is arrived at prior to next year….with safety first the driving factor.
    Have to say however that I am disappointed in your response – it indicates that you just don’t get the legitimate grIevances people are expressing about this years fiasco.

  • Granni Trixie

    I agree.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Or the Athboy “lets claim all the credit” scam. I believe they were the initiators of the entire Civil Rights conspiracy also. Ho hummmm……

  • lizmcneill

    The money earmarked for the party should go towards repairing the windows in the flats.

  • lizmcneill

    How about the woman with cancer and others who have suffered from the fires in previous years?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Not a bad idea tell BCC to give the 1500 quid to the Flats residents

  • Sean79

    If bonfires are an act of defiance by an abandoned working class who were once ship builders why don’t we see similar expressions of defiance on Clydeside or Tyneside?? More like the last yelps of a dying dog desperately trying to cling to the supremacy they once enjoyed.

  • Robinanna neibauer

    Maybe the politicians are Anti Catholic. They build these fires to Persecute Catholics.

  • Robinanna neibauer

    Yep. I know two people who would love it if the Brits went him and stopped persecuting Catholics!

  • james

    Are Catholics being persecuted?