For every Eleventh Night celebration where election posters, flags and effigies are lit, dozens more take place, bringing communities together for a night of fun free from controversy and antagonism.
But each year, the many are drowned out by the few who ignite the touch paper of controversy.
Nevertheless, there are good examples that show how a culture can be celebrated without rubbing the noses of those who think differently in the dirt.
People who are right to symbolically condemn effigies of political officials being burned at the stake will have to do so again when the tables are turned.
It’s an issue that drives many people mad with frustration, and that frustration can be felt in communities that continue to hold celebrations free of the hate displayed elsewhere that others are quick to pick up on.
Each year in Clandeboye, the village community association is at the heart of the eleventh night celebrations.
No bonfires soar into the sky, no flags are burned, and no pictures of politicians are thrown into the flames.
It is created by a community working together to embrace culture in a respectful and collective way.
Instead of piling up the pallets, the organizers are giving the people in the community what they want: an eco-friendly lighthouse.
The culture is not diminished and no one is provoked into judgment, but it is rarely mentioned.
The focus instead shifts to the few campfires where sectarian settings burn the 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 lie on the same path.
Alliance MLA Connie Egan, who grew up in the area, was among the hundreds of people who turned out for the eleventh night celebrations.
“There is a leadership demonstration. Every year they produce an event that no one can relate to,” she said.
“It’s fun, it involves the whole family and it’s about consulting with the community beforehand, figuring out how they want to celebrate and giving the community what they want.
“There are no expressions of hate and no indication of the intimidating atmosphere being picked up elsewhere.
“They are a good example of how a culture should and can be celebrated.”
The foundation stone for this cooperation was laid a few years ago. But Louise Little, who is associated with the North Down Community Network and has been a campfire volunteer, said the success of the pyre goes beyond just an event.
“We all want to live in an area where there is balance and respect, and that takes that level of community involvement,” said Ms. Little.
“We don’t want to compete with anyone. We don’t want to brag about the best event. We want an event that suits the people who live here and that is fun for everyone. A few years ago we distributed leaflets to every household in the area. We asked them what they would like, what would be appropriate for them.
“People have responded and we are trying to give them what they want through various events including the Eleventh Bonfire. That’s why they enjoy it so much.
“I’m not saying our approach is right for every community, but we’ve shown it can work.
“One of the options we offered was a willow burner instead of the traditional campfire.
“We know there is a story where children and young people love to gather wood for their campfires.
“In the past, they protected her [the bonfires]but as a community we wanted to move on together.
“There’s still a bonfire, but it’s a bonfire everyone wants to have. It suits the kind of day that everyone wants to enjoy here.
“The ethos of the night is that everyone should be able to enjoy themselves.
“Even if they’re not from an Eleventh Night culture, they should still be able to come along, feel safe, and explore what’s going on.”
It is difficult to build a community without involving everyone who lives in it.
In the end, over 80 percent of the Clandeboye community voted for the willow burner, and that night names were determined and a drawing of lots was made to select two young people to light it.
158 names were raffled, including young people from Poland, Lithuania, Romania, China, India, Pakistan and the USA.
Ms Little said: “We want to lift people’s spirits. This applies all year round, not just on the eleventh night.
“The emphasis is always on the community determining what happens.”
In Kilkeel it’s a similar tale of a fun day, but you won’t particularly emphasize it.
Gareth Crozier chairs the Schomberg Association, which organizes the local bonfire.
The celebrations have grown over the past 20 years to what they are today, but one thing that hasn’t grown is the size of the bonfire, with organizers refusing to build more than 20 feet.
“Festival, family and friendliness are the three words we work by,” said Mr. Crozier.
“This is not a competition to see who is the biggest or the best. The event is much more than just a campfire.”
The bonfire will be set up in just one day at a fire pit in the city’s Queen Elizabeth Park.
On the eleventh night there is no excessive drinking and no burning of flags or placards.
“We want people to feel welcome and we have visitors from all over the world – including the Republic of Ireland,” said Mr Crozier.
“We have to think about how they would feel if they saw their country’s flag on a bonfire.
“We do a lot of work throughout the year to ensure young people learn about the culture and history and why the event is happening.
“We have worked with other community organizations that want to do something similar.
“It should be about family. In this way, we can learn the culture of the past and build a better future.”
https://www.independent.ie/news/a-beacon-of-hope-for-northern-ireland-the-bonfire-that-unites-a-village-41841691.html A ray of hope for Northern Ireland: the bonfire that unites a village