Bonfires Of The Billy Bullies

Fire festivals are part of Ireland’s sacred heritage. But not these fires.

July 12th. The peak of the marching season. The annual celebration of the day in history, 1690 to be exact, when the Irish were defeated by William of Orange in the Battle of the Boyne.

July 12th. The annual opportunity for northern loyalists, also known as the Orangemen or Billy Bullies, to drive home the point with marches through Catholic neighborhoods. Marches and fires.

On July 11th seventeenth century loyalists to the crown lit fires along the banks of the river to show William the way to the battle. On July 11th modern day loyalists also light fires. Last year they burned a large photo of a young priest who had recently committed suicide. This year they raided a Catholic memorial to steal a statue of the Virgin Mary for the pyre. Flags of the Irish Republic and other icons are standard fuel for these fires.


This past weekend’s events are reported to have been more peaceful than in past years. For many ‘the troubles’ as they are called here have faded a bit. Yet for others the angry fires are kept alive. In the past couple of years the Orangemen have applied for permission to bring the marches out of the north and into Dublin. When permission was denied they just brought the marches anyway. They didn’t get far. Dubliners turned out en masse to turn them back. And without violence. As a friend said, “They just came out all together and told the Billy Bullies to piss off.”

Yesterday Jack and I were talking about the generally peaceful nature of the Irish people. It’s part of their heritage. Their spiritual ancestors are known as the People of Peace. It’s a countenance of peace tempered by deep grief. It’s a light of peace diminished by the persistent fires of the Billy Bullies.