Page last updated at 06:36 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 07:36 UK

Creating a 21st century bonfire

The traditional bonfire could be replaced by a community beacon

Willow chips, sustainability, and carbon neutral... not terms usually associated with an eleventh night bonfire.

But that's exactly what's involved in the so-called "community beacon", which will replace the traditional bonfire in the Woodvale area of Belfast this year.

It's also one option under consideration in Londonderry to make bonfires both safer and cleaner.

Stephanie Hunter is a community worker in the Caw area of the Waterside.

She recently took a group of local young people to Belfast to see the alternative bonfire at first hand.

"I think coming from this background, young people here feel kind of isolated anyway, so it was good for them to go and see how other communities are working towards changing their bonfire into a more community-friendly and environmentally-friendly event."

She said it was vital young people were included in the process.

I think they had their eyes opened
Stephanie Hunter, community worker

"They're the ones who are out there and who are building the thing, so they need to have their say and be involved in the process.

"I think they had their eyes opened, and they're open to seeing alternatives to what they're currently involved in," she said.

Across the river in the Fountain estate, Jeanette Warke from the Cathedral Youth Club is working hard to make sure this year's bonfire goes according to plan.

She said she doesn't feel the area is quite ready for a beacon.

"My main priority is encouraging the young people to be very careful with the materials they're creating for the bonfire.

"They've been very good, they've been keeping it down and keeping it contained to a small space, and definitely no tyres or any other materials which would affect the environment," she said.

But she said she wouldn't rule the community beacon out.

"People change over the years, so who knows?

"It's up to the young people so if they do come up with the idea we'll see what happens," she said.

Drew Thompson
Drew Thompson said the eleventh night was an important Protestant tradition

Councillor Drew Thompson said that while local people were actively considering alternatives to the traditional bonfire, it could be some time before the beacon caught on in Derry.

"It's always traditional for the Protestant community to have bonfires on the 11th night, and this would appear to be a smaller, more controlled type of bonfire than usual.

"The beacon in Woodvale appears to have a festival type atmosphere and a full programme along with it, which isn't envisaged in our thinking at the moment," he said.

He said that a lot of work had been done to make traditional bonfires safer.

"They do realise that the construction of the bonfire must not include tyres any more, or furniture which gives off fumes, but they are still anxious to build their bonfire within the specifications laid down by the Fire and Rescue Service."

But as Derry historian Richard Doherty pointed out, the beacon isn't a new idea.

"The bonfire comes from the practice of burning bones to ward off evil spirits, which goes back to Celtic times, but the beacon idea goes back as far as the Spanish Armada, which was 1588."

He pointed out that there was a historical reason the beacon might not catch on.

"Beacons have also been a distress signal, so maybe from that point of view some people might have an objection to using them," he said.

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