Amplify NI's Jim Ledwith reflects on his research with bonfire makers in Enniskillen, and the meaning of togetherness and organising for a tradition that has often been misunderstood.
"Fire in the bellies"... I often hear this term used in conversations describing community drivers or change makers in neighbourhoods. But it could as easily be applied to those who have continued the tradition of annual Halloween bonfire building in Enniskillen’s housing estates.
I grew up with the Halloween gang thing of raiding across defined territories in order to get the biggest bonfire going – especially if it was at the expense of another estate! We even deliberately set others bonfires alight - just to prove that we could do it, any time and place.
This mindset is alive and well, and I suspected this would be the case when I raised the prospect of chatting to the thirty odd strong tribe of “Kilimuckers”, as they are described in Enniskillen slang.
As an ethnographer of masked rituals, I knew that the bonfire tradition was a sub culture, an unofficial expression of togetherness, a bond of friendship for those who still got out to do it for weeks on end, tracking through muck and dirt.
Three group chats later - on the bonfire site, in the local pub and even in an office - convinced me more than ever that these lads and lassies believed in this thing called tradition... they came out with this answer time and time again: “It’s a tradition!”
Yes they are proud that they, Kilmacormick, still do it and they enjoy having the backing of many people in doing it, despite the negative narratives from some community representatives.
Outsider perspectives would give you the impression that there is no organisation - but that’s pure nonsense, as I witnessed first hand. These sort of informal groups are a real presence in the estates, as are those who erect the flags at Easter. This is where Amplify NI's ethnography comes into play - seeking out those who are an integral part of what makes an area stand out from others. It’s a step towards progress i.e. engaging and not belittling people's efforts, and aiming to understand the reasons why informal organising goes on at a street level. That could be jargonized as engaging the excluded, the hard to reach, or the disadvantaged.
By listening to each other's stories we can learn more about the world around us and open up a dialogue about the future we want to see. Every voice matters, so if you have thoughts or stories about the things you love in your community, the things that need to change to make it a fairer place, or your hopes or dreams for the future there, please share them with us!