Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland teens struggle to understand purpose of traditional bonfires, reports Youth Forum

Education: Chris Quinn
Education: Chris Quinn
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

Republican and loyalist teenagers in Northern Ireland struggle to understand the purpose and significance of traditional bonfires and want to "find ways to celebrate and commemorate in a more positive way", according to two major new reports published this week.

The Northern Ireland Youth Forum used focus groups during July and August of last year to garner opinion on the controversial topic of Eleventh Night and anti-internment bonfires.

Young people called for the opportunity to learn more and reflect on how our society celebrates culture and tradition.

The reports, published separately, showed significant differences among young people in the two communities.

In loyalist areas, young people see bonfires as an important part of the life of their community and some believe they are controlled by or have the support of paramilitaries.

In republican areas, they are seen as somewhat more contentious, with some young people seeking to replace them with festivals, carnivals and other events.

Young people believe the wider community in these areas associate bonfires with anti-social behaviour.

Loyalist young people referred to their rights to engage in bonfires as a form of cultural expression.

However, in discussions, many were not aware of what these rights were. And many found it hard to articulate what they mean when referring to "the tradition of bonfires".

The overwhelming majority of young people talked about the 11th of July in a positive context and suggested that it was one of the 'highlights' of their year.

Several young people talked about their family and the connection the bonfire had with older generations.

One participant said that the "paramilitaries run everything in here, so of course the bonfire is theirs".

Republican youths said they became involved in August bonfires because they are seen as a tradition.

However, some of the young people were not aware of the history and background.

For them, the bonfire was very much viewed as belonging to the young people, and not necessarily an event that garnered widespread community support. One participant said in his community "the Ra don't let it happen … we don't have one, and you can't even be seen to start collecting".

Chris Quinn, director of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, said: "By and large they feel they want more education on the significance of the bonfire tradition in both communities.

"They want to learn more about the history and about how this relates to their culture and identity, and they want to share that with their peers.

"They also said that they want to find ways of celebrating and commemorating in ways that are more positive."

Belfast Telegraph


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