Across Northern Ireland, Loyalists are putting the finishing touches to giant wooden structures which will be set alight on the stroke of midnight tonight (11 July). The bonfires, which can be over 100 feet tall, are made mainly of wooden pallets, and are often provocatively decorated with Catholic or Nationalist symbols such as posters of Sinn Fein politicians.
Many working class Protestants in Loyalists strongholds such as the Shankill in Belfast see the bonfires as an expression of their history and culture. The bonfires, held every year on the Eleventh, commemorate the lighting of fires on the hills to help King William's ships navigate through Belfast Lough at night when his forces landed at Carrickfergus to fight the Catholic Jacobites, supporters of the exiled Catholic King James II.
Barry from Kells beats a Lambeg drum in front of the Ballycraigy housing estate bonfire in Antrim Charles McQuillan/Getty Images An unidentified Loyalist stands in front of a Union flag mural at the Shankill road bonfire site in Belfast. The Shankill is a Loyalist stronghold and is home to many working class Protestants who believe the bonfires are an expression of their history and culture. Although some bonfires receive funding from local councils through what's known as the Bonfire Initiative, this year's Shankill bonfire is on private land without funding Charles McQuillan/Getty Images An Isis flag and posters of Sinn Fein politicians are seen on a bonfire in the Shankill area of west Belfast Paul Faith/AFP Brothers Mark and Hayden watch over the nearly completed bonfire on the Ballyduff estate in Newtownabbey. Bonfire builders must guard against would be arsonists, often nationalists, intent on setting the bonfire alight before the designated 11th night Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Wrapped in a Union flag, 13-year-old Tyler Reid helps guard the bonfire in Lisburn, having finished school for the summer Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Reece Moore stands guard over the Ballymacash bonfire outside his makeshift hut which is manned twenty fours hours a day and provides shelter and some home comforts such as electricity and a television Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Bonfire builders Dean Neeson and Graeme Stewart carry wooden pallets to a bonfire in the Ballymacash area of Lisburn Paul Faith/AFP Davy McGrotty watches over the unfinished bonfire in an area of Belfast known as The Village. In some areas there is unofficial competition around bonfires based on design with additional points awarded for accumulation of Nationalist political posters and flags Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Loyalists climb The Village bonfire being built in preparation for the 11th night bonfire Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Kyle Douglas and Darren McDowell pose with their creation as work continues on the Sandy Row bonfire in the heart of Belfast's city centre Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Loyalists finish The Sandy Row bonfire in preparation for the 11th night Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Stewart McClelland and Winston Wylie proudly display their finished bonfire on the Ballykeel 2 estate in Ballymena. The structure took over three weeks to complete Charles McQuillan/Getty Images 'Hurka', the chief architect and builder of the Craigyhill bonfire in Larne, takes a break from stacking pallets to pose with his creation whilst balancing on a ladder Charles McQuillan/Getty Images Loyalists finish a bonfire in East Belfast in preparation for the 11th night celebrations Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Union flag bunting is hung out on Moorgate Street in East Belfast Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Bonfire builder Ryan Preston poses for a photograph on the Doonbeg bonfire in Rathcoole in north Belfast Paul Faith/AFP
The lighting of the bonfires is a precursor to the
controversial Orange marches held every year on the Twelfth to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of Catholic King James by Protestant King William in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.