Nationalists place poppy wreaths and pictures of Queen on Derry bonfire

16 August 2020, 20:04

Pictures and flags are added to a bonfire in the Bogside area of Derry City
Pictures and flags are added to a bonfire in the Bogside area of Derry City. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

Nationalists have been condemned for placing poppy wreaths and pictures of the Queen on bonfires.

Traditional August bonfires were lit in nationalist areas across Derry over the weekend.

The wreaths were placed on a fire built in Curryneirin on the Waterside of the city. The incident comes after wreaths were recently stolen from a nearby war memorial.

The Derry pyres are lit to mark the Catholic Feast of the Assumption.

Several of the fires continue to be a source of controversy within the city, with young bonfire builders criticised for anti-social behaviour and burning items and symbols associated with the unionist tradition.

On one of the biggest fires, in the Bogside, a picture of the Queen was attached to the structure before it was torched on Saturday night.

Union flags, Northern Ireland flags and a US and Israeli flag were also placed on the stacks of wooden pallets, as were flags of the Parachute Regiment - the regiment whose soldiers were responsible for the Bloody Sunday shootings in the city in 1972.

The placement of the poppy wreaths on the Curryneirin bonfire was condemned by DUP and Sinn Fein MLAs.

Ahead of the fire, DUP representative Gary Middleton tweeted: "This is disgraceful and utterly insulting to the war dead. There needs to be leadership shown in this community. Poppy wreaths were stolen from the war memorial in Londonderry recently. Those who place wreaths on bonfires clearly have a warped mindset."

An image of Queen Elizabeth II is added to a bonfire in the Bogside area of Derry City
An image of Queen Elizabeth II is added to a bonfire in the Bogside area of Derry City. Picture: PA

On Sunday morning, Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson said: "The appearance of poppy wreaths on a bonfire in Curryneirin was wrong and must be condemned.

"Everyone has a right to remember their dead in a respectful and dignified manner and the theft and desecration of these wreaths goes totally against that."

Ahead of the fires, organisers had been urged to comply with coronavirus regulations that limit the size of outdoor gatherings to 30 people.

In the Bogside, a significantly larger number gathered to watch as it was lit late on Saturday night.

The fires were ignited just over a month after loyalist bonfires were lit across Northern Ireland to usher in the main date of the Protestant loyal order calendar, the Twelfth of July.

Many loyalist bonfire builders face similar criticism on an annual basis, with nationalist items and symbols regularly burned on the Eleventh Night.

Police confirmed they were investigating.

PSNI Superintendent Gordon McCalmont said: "Over the last number of weeks, police have been working closely with partner agencies as well as community representatives in relation to bonfires in the Derry/Londonderry area.

"It was encouraging to see that events on Saturday 15th August passed off peacefully.

"Police are aware of images of poppy wreaths and other items on bonfires and recognise the hurt this will have caused to individuals. Police have commenced an investigation into this."

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