Soils are recipients of contaminants from the burning of metal-containing materials in bonfires. In order to obtain a better understanding of the impacts of bonfires on soils, a total of 218 surface soil samples were collected from a traditional bonfire site in Galway City, Ireland. Concentrations of 14 elements including Al, Ca, Co, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Na, Ni, Pb, Sc, Ti and Zn in 30 selected samples were determined using ICP-OES. Strong variations were observed for these elements. Concentrations of Zn, Cu and Pb were elevated, indicating that these metals may be influenced by human activities. Therefore, concentrations of these three metals were further measured using a portable X-ray fluorescence (P-XRF) analyser (n = 218) and their spatial distribution was investigated using a Geographical Information System (GIS). Soils with elevated metal concentrations, as evident from the spatial distribution maps, coincided with the locations of traditional festival bonfires. The results of this study provide useful information for the management of bonfire sites including the enforcement of a control policy regarding the burning of materials in bonfires. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.