Possibly Ireland’s greatest live band, Kíla, will soundtrack what organisers hope will be the safest, cleanest, traditional August bonfire ever erected in the North, as the 25th Gasyard Féile goes out in a blaze of glory in the Bogside tonight.
The incendiary Dublin folk outfit will be joined by Cavan rock ‘n’ rollers, The Strypes, and homegrown heroes, Roe, Scenery, Lavengro and Luke Mac, for ‘Return of The Phoenix - A Festival of Fire,’ which will take place in the Gasyard from 6pm.
The Féile finale will feature what’s essentially a traditional bonfire, but accompanied by a spectacular pyrotechnic display, designed by critically acclaimed fire artists, LUXe, and local young people.
It will be a fitting end to what’s been a record-breaking 25th birthday year, hopes Féile programmer Gareth Stewart.
“It’s been great so far. We’ve had record numbers. Better than we ever imagined and from 6pm on Tuesday we’re out in the Gasyard for an evening of family friendly fun culminating with the fire festival from 10.15pm.
“Féile’s always been good at getting bands but this year, we thought, if we’re going to do it we’ll go all out, so the line-up’s absolutely fantastic.”
It’s the first time a traditional bonfire has been erected as part of the Féile programme and, of course, the fire will be lit against the background of smouldering controversy over the control of bonfires in the North.
Bonfires have been lit in August in Ireland from time immemorial - to mark, variously, the old Irish Lúnasa festival, the Feast of the Assumption and, more recently, the uprising against internment in 1971, but unfortunately they’ve become synonmous with anti-social behaviour, sectarianism and environmental destruction over recent years. This is something tonight’s event in the Gasyard is aiming to address.
“What we’re trying to do is promote the message that fires are okay but what’s not okay is burning flags and anti-social behaviour. Bonfires have kind of degenerated over the years and we’re trying to address this,” said Mr. Stewart.
“I don’t think this has really happened in the North before on this scale. It’s controlled, it’s safe, there’s no toxic materials, it’s environmentally friendly and it’s all about the performance and fire works show.”
Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion believes the Féile initiative dovetails neatly with Derry City and Strabane District Council’s recently adopted bonfire policy.
“This is something that should be looked upon throughout the North in the future,” she said.
Mrs. McCalllion said she was looking forward to a family friendly event that was “designed by the young people...and educated a lot of these young people.”
Mr. Stewart said he viewed the ‘Return of the Phoenix’ and bonfires generally from a parent’s perspective.
“I think the big question people have to ask is: if you’re a parent and you’re taking your children to a fire and letting them watch burning flags, burning effigies, what damage is that doing to your child? That’s what you have to think about. I’m a father now and do I really think it would be okay? It would scare me. I looked at photos from the bonfire on the Lecky Road last year on the flyover and it was horrific. It has to do damage.”