Twelfth of July: Why bonfires are lit on the Eleventh Night?

Bonfires are lit in areas across Northern Ireland on the Eleventh Night every year to usher in the main date in the parading calendar.

The Twelfth is a day of commemorations, organised by loyal orders, marking the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne, north of Dublin, in 1690.

This triumph secured a Protestant line of succession to the British Crown.

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The Orange Order, founded in 1795, continues to champion William's legacy by espousing loyalty to the Crown and the Reformed faith.

Thousands of Orange Lodge members parade through the summer months to celebrate William's victory and other key dates in Protestant/unionist/loyalist culture.

Those commemorations culminate on the Twelfth - the anniversary of the Boyne encounter.

But why are bonfires lit the night before this event?

The origins of the Eleventh Night bonfires are thought to rest in age-old Irish tradition of lighting bonfires in times of celebration. These bonfires were used to mark the pagan holidays of Midsummer, Bealtaine, and Samhain.

It's understood that Carrickfergus took the lead in lighting bonfires in 1690 to help King William land on their shores.

It's thought bonfires commemorate the lighting of beacons in the high hills of Down and Antrim to allow for King William’s warships to navigate Belfast Lough in the evening.

Each year, bonfires are lit on the Eleventh Night to commemorate this act.

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