Unionists Light Bonfires for Annual 'Twelfth of July' Festival

Northern Ireland’s annual Twelfth of July festival began on Monday, July 11, with unionists lighting large bonfires laden with Irish flags, European Union (EU) flags, images of local nationalist politicians, and other symbols of Irish republicanism.

The Ulster Protestant festival is held to commemorate the victory of King William of Orange in 1690 over James II, the deposed Catholic king of England and Ireland.

Bonfires are traditionally lit on the night of July 11 ahead of parades on July 12. This footage shows a blaze at the Ballycraigy area of Antrim town, west of Belfast.

The marches that follow the next day are led by the Orange Order, a fraternal organization founded in 1795 to defend unionism in the region. Traditionally, the marches pass through predominately Catholic areas, with participants beating drums and playing whistles, and sometimes leading to tense or violent confrontations.

Critics accuse the Orange Order of provoking conflict and seeking to promote Protestant supremacy over Catholic communities. Members of the Orange Order, often called Orangemen, reject such criticisms, instead arguing that the festival is an expression of the culture and traditions of Northern Ireland’s Protestant community.

The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, welcomed the return of the parades as a “tremendous success,” after pandemic restrictions forced their cancellation in the previous two years.

Though hundreds of fires were lit across the state on Monday night, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service recorded a decrease in bonfire incidents in comparison to the previous year.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said the festival was among the “safest and most peaceful 12th July events in recent memory.” Credit: @itstortievr via Storyful

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