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Saturday 9 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
PA Images A young boy plays drums by a bonfire on Belfast's Shankill Road as bonfires were lit at midnight.
Twelfth of July

Crowds gather as Twelfth of July bonfires lit amid coronavirus restrictions

Call outs by the Northern Ireland fire service dropped by a third this year compared to last year.

BONFIRES HAVE BEEN lit in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland as the annual Twelfth of July tradition took place amid coronavirus restrictions.

While there were fewer fires than usual, significant crowds did gather at several of the bonfires that went ahead.

In north Belfast, there was a second night of sporadic disorder close to a community interface as police came under attack from petrol bombers in the nationalist New Lodge close to a bonfire in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay area.

Ahead of the Eleventh Night fires, politicians and community leaders had urged people to avoid mass gatherings and stick to Covid-19 regulations that limit outdoor gatherings to no more than 30 people.

Crowds well in excess of 30 were witnessed at a number of fires that were lit late last night.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said crews responded to 24 bonfire related incidents between 6pm last night and 1am today – a 29.5% decrease compared to 2019.

The spokesman added that no attacks on personnel or appliances were reported.

Bonfires are torched in loyalist communities across the region every 11 July to usher in the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season, the Twelfth of July.

The bonfires mark a loyalist tradition to remember the anniversary of the Protestant King William’s victory over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

While the majority pass off without incident, some are the source of community tension, with authorities previously having intervened to remove towering pyres on health and safety grounds.

Many of the fires were cancelled during the Covid-19 lockdown, with a number of sites cleared of wood by the local authorities.

However, the recent easing of restrictions in Northern Ireland led to some reversing the decision to cancel.

Some bonfire builders also appear to have been motivated amid loyalist anger over a controversy that saw hundreds of republicans acting in alleged variance with the regulations to gather in west Belfast last month for the funeral of IRA veteran Bobby Storey.

The Orange Order has cancelled its plans for traditional mass Twelfth of July parades and demonstrations, which were scheduled to take place tomorrow, 13 July due to the fact the Twelfth falls on a Sunday.

Some loyalist bands are planning to take part in localised events tomorrow, urging people to stay in their homes while they parade past.

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