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Thousands of people took the streets of Northern Ireland earlier this week to mark the Twelfth of July celebrations in full for the first time since before the pandemic.

The day before, thousands more gathered in unionist areas for the Eleventh Night bonfires marking the start of the Battle of the Boyne commemorations.

The events played out without any major issues, but in the days that followed there was widespread condemnation of the effigies of prominent female politicians which hung from bonfires on Monday night.

The who don’t agree with the bonfire celebrations say these events are disrespectful and promote hatred. However, those who take part hold real pride in these celebrations and argue that both the marches and bonfires are an important part of their culture and identity.


Meanwhile, a parallel world of online activism continues to grow in strength and influence as loyalists and nationalists fight to shape the digital narrative around July 12th.

Overall, social media coverage of the bonfires and marches tends to be more negative than positive, Dr Paul Reilly, author of two books about the role of the internet in Northern Irish conflict transformation, told the In the News podcast.

Social media often “highlights the persistent sectarianism, the persistence of division, the fact that perhaps events such as bonfires, which are often framed as inclusive, aren’t really,” he said. “I think there’s an element where people don’t really turn to those platforms to learn, they turn more to respond or to vent.”

However, social media can also be used to “moderate tension and it’s important we don’t lose that potential,” said Dr Reilly. “It does enable people to be exposed to a different community background who might not be the sort of people they come across in their day to day lives, that’s a positive.”

Irish Times northern correspondent Seanín Graham, who reported on the Twelfth of July marches, also joins the podcast to discuss how bandsmen and families felt about taking to the streets and celebrating earlier this week.

In The News is presented by Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope and produced by Declan Conlan, Suzanne Brennan and Jennifer Ryan.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast