Bonfires will be lit across Northern Ireland tonight, July 11, for 'Eleventh Night' - but what is the meaning behind the Loyalist tradition?
Any fans of "Derry Girls" previously unaccustomed to Northern Ireland's annual marching season got a taste of what the atmosphere was like in the 90s and how it often prompted Catholics to leave the area.
While the marching season as shown in the show has now become a more watered-down version thanks to the peace process, each July, in particular, sees an outpouring of Loyalist pride in the form of Eleventh Night and the Glorious Twelfth.
What is Northern Ireland's marching season?
The marching season in Northern Ireland runs from April through August for those of the heavily Protestant Loyalist and Unionist tradition in Northern Ireland.
However, the events culminate on July 12, often known as the Glorious Twelfth, The Twelfth, or Orangemen's Day, an annual celebration to honor the 17th-century battlefield victory over Irish Catholics in the Battle of the Boyne.
What is Orangeman's Day or the Twelfth in Northern Ireland?
The Glorious Twelfth, The Twelfth, or Orangemen's Day is held annually on July 12, the most important day in the marching calendar which marks the Orange Order's commemoration of the victory of Protestant William of Orange over Catholic James II in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
July 12 is a public holiday in Northern Ireland, where the general population is off and schools and businesses are closed.
Why are bonfires lit in Northern Ireland on July 11?
The tradition of lighting bonfires throughout Northern Ireland on the night of July 11 is believed to have started as a way to commemorate the lighting of fires on hilltops in Antrim and Down that helped Williamite forces navigate through the Belfast Lough at night during the Williamite Wars in Ireland.
The Eleventh Night bonfires on July 11 are typically held in loyalist areas of Northern Ireland, communities that remain loyal to the British crown.
However, symbols of Irish nationalism, republicanism, or of Catholicism are sometimes added to the pyre during the bonfires, although moves have been made in recent years to remove the sectarian element of the bonfires as well as the burning of tires which causes harmful chemicals to be released into the air.
What is the criticism of the Eleventh Night bonfires?
Many of those who criticize the Eleventh Night bonfires believe that they are magnets for anti-social behavior while those who defend them believe they are a family-friendly celebration of loyalist culture.
According to data compiled by the Irish News in 2016, the Twelfth of July results in similar crime levels to those around St. Patrick’s Day, a day that could be seen as a rival nationalist or republican holiday.
Looking through crime statistics for the period between 2009 and 2015, the Irish paper found that while the Twelfth came out on top for crime when taken as a single day only, St. Patrick’s Day featured more crime when studied over a 36-hour period surrounding the event.
*Originally published in 2019, last updated in 2023.