Category Archives: Bonfires

The Bonfires to Celebrate VE Day 1945

The Bonfires to Celebrate VE Day 1945

Bonfires have been used for centuries to celebrate and mark historical occasions.  The VE Celebrations were no different.

Organised Bonfires were set alight at several locations in the town.  The first one was ignited in High Street.

An effigy of Hitler was the source of entertainment when it was carried through the town. The effigy was hoisted on to scaffolding by locals with the help of Servicemen, including Belgian Soldiers, who were ‘delighted with the experience’ and the introduction to the Northern Ireland Bonfire Tradition.

The large collection of boxes and timber of all descriptions made up the bonfire.  It was set on fire and the crowds cheered as the effigy went up in flames.

Main Bonfire

The main Bonfire of the evening took place in the Fair Green.  The local Boy Scouts, under the guidance and leadership of Commissioner Cyril Abraham, had built the large structure.

A large crowd of people gathered to watch. The occasion was opened  by the band of the Salvation Army.  They played the hymns ‘O God our Help in ages past’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

Dr George Dougan MP and District Master of Portadown Orange District LOL No 1 led the speeches.

“We are met here to celebrate  the greatest victory ever, this will become more apparent as we see the fruits of the success.  We are this evening honouring the Boy Scouts who have arranged this fire.  The future of this district in particular and the province in general, is in good hands when guided in any way by Boy Scouts who carry out work of great usefulness”.

Captain Ian Graham of the Royal Army Service Corps had connections with scouting in America.  In his speech he stated:

“I am greatly honoured at being asked to join the ceremony this evening. It would give American Scouts great pleasure if they knew an American Scout had been invited to the proceedings “.

Mr R J Magowan, Chairman of the Urban District Council, stated:

“Once again we see that where the Union Jack flies man is free.  Portadown has played a wonderful part in the waging of the war during the past 5 or 6 years.  Every section of service has had its share of the support of their people, the Armed Services, Shipyards, Factories, Civil Defence , Home Guard and the farms.  We all feel proud of the triumph which has been achieved and that our province is still attached to the British Empire”.

“Portadown is very proud of all of her Men and Women in H.M Services and it remains for those at home to make this a better place to which they will return”.

Speeches were also heard from Mr H Murray, President of the the British Legion and Mr W.A Mullen.

A Community Together

Mr T A Shillington, President of the Portadown and District Boy Scouts Association, placed a lighted torch to the bonfire. The Bonfire was a mass flame in a few short minutes and spread ‘light across the entire neighbourhood’.

As the fire burned the Band led the people in community singing. Mr Joshua Bell had led the proceedings with announcing those giving speeches.  He finished with the famous lines from Laurence Binyon’s poem in memory of the fallen ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’.  This was followed by ‘a short silence of respect to the gallant dead’.

The Lords prayer was recited by the Rev H W Plunkett.  The crowd sang the hymn ‘Abide with me’ and the National Anthem concluded the event.

Symbolic

The burning of the effigy of Hitler was described as:

“symbolic of the ending of the Nazi tyranny of mind and soul, and the lighting of the four torches symbolised the four freedoms and the rekindling of a new home of freedom, brotherhood and peace for mankind”.

Other Bonfires

Bonfires were set alight in several other locations in the town.  Some of those recorded in our archives are John Street, South Street and Meadow Lane. The Bonfires were described as a ‘magnificent event’.

Especially for the young children who experienced them for the first time.  The normality of Bonfires being built and set alight in July to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne had not happened for the duration of the 2nd World War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Historical Significance of Bonfires

The Historical Significance of Bonfires

The Bonfire Tradition

Each year throughout Northern Ireland, hundreds of bonfires are lit and enjoyed in a safe manner by many people.  Although if they are not built properly, they can cause damage to property.

The tradition of building bonfires in Portadown goes right back to the 1830’s.  According to our archives, It was around this time that the first Arches also started to appear throughout the town.  The two traditions have developed together throughout the years.

Bonfires are lit around the world at different times of the year to celebrate many different occasions.

Timeline of the Bonfire

Bonfires have been around since the start of mankind.  In Ancient times, Bonfires were not only used for warmth, cooking and light, but they also became a centre of social activity and a religious and spiritual ritual.  In essence it became a tradition of remembrance and celebration.

When Christianity was brought to the Island of Ireland sometime before the 5th century,  it caused a shift in religious belief.  Instead of the ancient tradition of ‘fire worshipers’, a bonfire became significant on feast days and other religious holidays.  The whole community would come together around a bonfire and praise God.

Military use of a Bonfire

The military first started using Bonfires in the 1500’s.  Fire and light have always been used as a means of communicating and signalling.  The military would often use bonfires as a way of signalling that danger was approaching.

The Bonfire and Orangeism

William III Prince of Orange, landed at Torbay in England on 5th November 1688.  William came at the request of the people.  They wanted  King James II removed from the throne. The people also wanted  their rights restored as subjects. Their rights had been taken from them by James.  William agreed to a new Bill of Rights.  This became the foundation of modern day democracy.  When the people heard of William and Mary’s coronation, Bonfires were lit all over Ulster in Celebration.

In June 1690, William and his army landed at Carrickfergus .  As he marched into Belfast, Bonfires were once again lit to celebrate his arrival.

The 11th Night Tradition

Bonfires are lit on the 11th July night throughout Northern Ireland.  These bonfires are a commemoration of William III’s victory over James II at the Battle of The Boyne. The Bonfires are a tradition that represent the Bonfires lit in celebration of William’s coronation and also his landing at Carrickfergus.  But the Bonfires also represent the camp fires lit by William’s army the night before the Battle of The Boyne.  The Battle was fought on 1st July, but changes to the Christian calendar mean the anniversary is now celebrated on the 12th July.

Other Historical events in Northern Ireland

Bonfires were lit to celebrate the defeat of the First Home Rule Bill in 1886.  In 1945, to celebrate Victory in Europe day (VE), Bonfires were also lit throughout Northern Ireland.  They were a focal point of the celebrations as large street parties were also held throughout communities.

Bonfires Today

Bonfires in the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist community are a means of maintaining tradition and are an expression of cultural heritage.  It is a tradition that is passed down the generations.  For the areas of Portadown that host Bonfires, it is a community event that brings together the generations.  It is around those fires on the 11th night that people come together to celebrate their history.  It is also an opportunity for the older generation to have a yarn and reminisce about the old days of building the bonfire.

The Stories are told of days gone by. The days of going out to collect the dead wood and trees before the days of wooden pallets being delivered by lorries!

What is not to be underestimated, is the time and effort that is given to building Bonfires.  This effort makes the continuation of tradition possible.  As Northern Ireland changes, aspects of the Bonfire will change.  It will develop and change as it has done throughout history.  What will not change for Northern Ireland Bonfires, is the heritage and history of tradition behind them.