Many Eleventh Nights are free from vile bigotry, but in Clandeboye they go even further
For every Eleventh Night celebration where election posters, flags and effigies are set alight, dozens more are held where communities come together for a night of fun, free from controversy and antagonism.
But every year the many are drowned out by the few who light the touch paper of controversy.
Still, there are fine examples that show how a culture can be celebrated without rubbing the noses of those who hold a different viewpoint in the dirt.
People who rightly condemn effigies of political representatives symbolically burned at the stake must do so again when the tables are turned.
It’s an issue that drives many people mad with frustration, and that frustration is felt in the communities that continue to hold celebrations free from the hate on display elsewhere that others are quick to seize upon.
Every year in Clandeboye, the village community association is at the heart of the Eleventh Night celebrations.
There is no bonfire reaching for the sky, no flags are burned and no images of politicians are thrown to the flames.
It is created by a community working together to embrace culture in a respectful and collective manner.
Rather than pile the pallets high, the organisers give the people of the community what they want: an environmentally friendly beacon.
The culture is not diminished and no one is provoked into statements of condemnation, but it rarely gets mentioned.
The focus instead turns to those few bonfires where sectarian attitudes burn brightest.
A concerted effort has been made in Clandeboye to help people fall in love with the culture.
If love is too big a step, understanding and acceptance is on the same road.
Alliance MLA Connie Egan, who was brought up in the area, was among the hundreds of people who turned up for the Eleventh Night celebrations.
“There’s a show of leadership. Every year they produce an event that no one can have any issue with,” she said.
“It’s fun, it involves all the family and it’s all about consulting with the community beforehand, finding out how they want to celebrate and giving the community what it wants.
“There are no displays of hate and not a hint of the intimidatory atmosphere picked up on elsewhere.
“They set a fine example of how a culture should be celebrated and can be celebrated.”
Foundations for that spirit of togetherness were laid several years ago. But Louise Little, who is connected to North Down Community Network and was a volunteer at the bonfire, said the success of the pyre extended beyond just one event.
“We all want to live in an area where balance and respect is showcased, and to do that you need to have that level of community engagement,” Ms Little explained.
“We don’t want to be in competition with anyone else. We don’t want to boast about the best event. We want an event that’s right for the people who live here and is enjoyed by everyone. Several years ago we dropped leaflets to every home in the area. We asked them what they would like, what would be appropriate for them.
“People responded and, through various events including the Eleventh bonfire, we’re trying to give them what they want. That’s why they enjoy it so much.
“I’m not saying the way we do things is right for every community, but we’ve shown it can work.
“One of the options we offered was a willow burner in place of the traditional bonfire.
“We know there’s a history where children and young people like to go around gathering bits of wood for their bonfires.
“In the past they have been protective of them [the bonfires], but as a community we wanted to move on together.
“There’s still a bonfire, but it’s a bonfire everyone wants. It lends itself to the sort of day everyone here wants to enjoy.
“The ethos of the night is that everyone should be able to enjoy themselves.
“If they’re not from an Eleventh Night culture, they should still be able to come along, feel safe and explore what it’s about.”
It’s difficult to build a community without involving everyone who lives in it.
In the end, over 80% of the Clandeboye community chose the willow burner, and on the night names were taken and a draw made to select two young people to set it alight.
There were 158 names in the draw, and among their number were young people from Poland, Lithuania, Romania, China, Indian, Pakistan and the US.
Ms Little said: “We want to lift people’s spirits. That is consistent throughout the year, not just on the Eleventh Night.
“The emphasis is always on the community determining what happens.”
In Kilkeel, it’s a similar story of a day filled with fun, but you won’t see it highlighted much.
Gareth Crozier is chair of the Schomberg Association, which organises the local bonfire.
The celebrations have grown in size over past 20 years to become what they are today, but one thing that hasn’t grown is the size of the bonfire, with organisers refusing to build above 20 feet.
“Festival, family and friendly are the three words we operate to,” said Mr Crozier.
“This isn’t a competition to see who has the biggest or the best. The event is much more than just a bonfire.”
The bonfire is built in a fire pit in the town’s Queen Elizabeth Park in just one day.
On the Eleventh Night there is no excessive drinking and no burning of flags or posters.
“We want people to feel welcome, and we have visitors from all over the world — that includes the Republic of Ireland,” Mr Crozier said.
“We have to think how would they feel if they saw the flag of their country on a bonfire.
“We do a lot of work throughout the year in making sure young people know about the culture and the history, about why the event takes place.
“We have worked with other community organisations that want to do something similar.
“It should be all about family. That’s the way we can learn the culture of the past and build a better future.”