‘Significant increase’ in bonfire callouts in North ahead of Twelfth celebrations

Hundreds of Orange Order parades to take place in more restricted and localised fashion

Spectators gathered in Larne, Co Antrim to witness the burning of the biggest bonfire in Northern Ireland, one of 160 that were lit across the North to celebrate the Eleventh Night, which precedes the Twelfth of July parades. Video: Kathleen Harris

 

Hundreds of Orange Order Twelfth of July parades will take place across Northern Ireland on Monday – but in more localised and restricted fashion due to Covid-19.

Thousands of members of the Orange Order will participate in about 550 parades in more than 100 locations around the North to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne.

Most of the parades will kick off at about 10am, with some feeder parades starting earlier.

Police and senior politicians are hopeful that the day will pass off peacefully after a night of Eleventh Night bonfires that concluded without major incident.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) said it was “exceptionally busy” over Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights protecting “properties from radiated heat [and] embers” from the bonfires.

The Tiger’s Bay bonfire in Belfast alight in the early hours of Monday morning. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The Tiger’s Bay bonfire in Belfast alight in the early hours of Monday morning. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

However, unlike in some previous years, according to the service, “there were no attacks on fire service personnel or appliances at any bonfire-related incidents”.

On Sunday night into Monday morning the fire service said it received 153 calls with 105 mobilisations of firefighters, and 40 of those calls related to bonfires.

More than 200 bonfires were lit across Northern Ireland over the weekend. The fire service said that over Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights it was called out to deal with 81 bonfire incidents. Over those days it received 378 calls resulting in 244 mobilisations.

The most contentious bonfire in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay close to the interface with the nationalist New Lodge area also took place peacefully.

It had prompted a failed legal attempt by Sinn Féin and SDLP politicians to have the bonfire removed.

‘Significant increase’

Overall the service said there was a “significant increase in bonfire-related incidents” compared to last year.

“Despite the increased demand of bonfire-related incidents, NIFRS maintained emergency response cover across Northern Ireland through the use of contingency planning measures, enabling attendance to a range of operational incidents including property fires and other emergency incidents,” it said.

Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Sir Jeffrey Donaldson commended the fire service and community leaders for helping ensure there were no major incidents during the Eleventh Night bonfires.

Orange marches are traditionally held on the Twelfth of July to remember the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholic King James II at the Boyne in 1690, which secured the Protestant line of succession to the English throne.

Last year the traditional large-scale demonstrations were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the second year the Grand Lodge of Ireland took the decision that the 18 main parades would not take place due to coronavirus, with Orange lodges and bands instead due to take part in smaller parades in their local areas.

The Tricolour burning on the Tiger’s Bay bonfire in Belfast in the early hours of Monday morning. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The Tricolour burning on the Tiger’s Bay bonfire in Belfast in the early hours of Monday morning. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Demonstration fields – where marchers gather to hear speeches – have been cancelled, and some parade routes have been lengthened to allow those watching to spread out and practice social distancing.

Spectators have been asked to choose one parade to attend, to avoid standing in crowds or walking alongside the parade, and to wear face coverings when appropriate.