IT’S 9am on a sharply cold Belfast morning, and WWN are some 45 feet up the side of a hollow mountain of pallets, filled with tires like some macabre Walnut Whip with tricolours instead of nuts. It’s early July, so that means one thing in this part of the city; bonfire season.
Below us, above us and all around us, teams of teenagers work tirelessly to haul tyres to the summit, filling the core before rising the peak another 10 or 15 feet with layer after layer of pallets and anti-Catholic slogans.
We stop one for a chat. Windy up here, eh?
“Pallets. Taigs. Pallets. Culture. Pallets,” he drones, before inversely scurrying down the side of the wood mountain like Gollum.
We try another; the same response.
Of the hundred or so teens building the gargantuan pile of firewood, none of them are over 16. They work day and night. Nobody knows where the pallets are coming from, or the tyres. Some say the boys have been making pallets all year, from wood they sourced from their own secret sustainable forest on the outskirts of Lurgan. The tyres may or may not be made from melted wheelie bins. Nobody knows.
What is known, is that the lads will not stop until they have a bigger bonfire than has ever been seen by their local Orange Order before, ready to burn into the night sky on the 12th in a striking reminder to everyone that something something something.
The boys, many of whom were 10 years away from being born in the height of the Troubles, do not forget what these fires mean to their community. They mean something. Nobody knows what, but they’ve seen them being built and burnt since they were born, and that’s good enough reason to keep doing it.
On the side of the massive pyre, we pass another pallet up to the lad above our heads as he positions is just so.
“Pallet good. Taking bad. Culture good. Fire good”, he drones.
We ask him what he’s doing for the rest of the summer holidays. We remember being his age, when school let out, free to do whatever we wanted for months with no pressure from work or education.
“Pallets” he repeats.
“Must build fire”.