Sandy Row honours King Billy with epic Bonfire Night street party

Last night I had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand one of the world’s great street parties, as south Belfast loyalists kicked off their Twelfth of July celebrations with a huge Bonfire Night fiesta in the city’s Sandy Row district.

The annual event is one of the highlights in the Sandy Row cultural calendar and celebrates the Protestant King William III defeating the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Sandy Row
This mural of King William III (affectionately known as King Billy by locals) welcomes visitors to Sandy Row

Bonfire Night

The night before the Twelfth of July sees Northern Ireland lit up with hundreds of bonfires and street parties.

Local youths who have laboured for months collecting wood and building the bonfires, spend July 11th decorating the giant structures with Republic of Ireland flags and Sinn Fein election posters (symbols associated with Irish republicanism – a political ideology that conflicts with their own Ulster loyalism).

Sandy Row has one of the biggest loyalist communities in south Belfast, and their bonfire was impressively large. There was a palpable sense of pride among the local residents who gathered to watch the bonfire get set alight at midnight (video).

People of all ages enjoyed the spectacular inferno before dancing the night away to music that ranged from 90s dance classics to loyalist anthems like “Simply the Best“, “The Sash” and “King Billy’s on the Wall“. There were also several renditions of “Will Grigg’s on Fire“, the Northern Ireland football song that took Euro 2016 by storm.

 

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Children hard at work applying the finishing touches to the bonfire, which is adorned with a Celtic football top, Republic of Ireland flags and Sinn Fein election posters
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Local residents await the lighting of the bonfire
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The bonfire is set alight at midnight
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Loyalists show their opposition to Irish republicanism by burning Republic of Ireland flags and Sinn Fein election posters on the bonfire
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The bonfire lights up the party in Wellwood Street, while nearby buildings are hosed with water to prevent them going on fire

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