Larne bonfire set for new world record in memory of fall victim John Steele

The bonfire is one of the tallest structures in Northern Ireland. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

An attempt to set a new world bonfire record in Northern Ireland has gone ahead in memory of a man who died in a fall at a nearby pyre.

John Steele had been helping to build a 50ft bonfire in Antiville in Larne, Co Antrim, when he fell on Saturday.

It was dismantled on Sunday night as a mark of respect and a vigil was held for Mr Steele.

However a short distance away in Craigyhill in the town, a world record attempt bonfire went ahead.

James Brown, from the Craigyhill bonfire committee, said they finished building the structure on Sunday night.

On Monday it was measured using lasers and a drone, and found to be 202.3ft high.

It has attracted a great deal of attention with many people travelling to see it.

The current world record for the highest bonfire is 198ft, and was set in Lustenau, Austria, on March 16 2019.

Mr Brown explained they wanted to bring the record to Northern Ireland, describing it as the “home of the bonfire”.

“We all sat around, the committee, and talked about the record set in Austria,” he told the PA news agency.

“We thought Northern Ireland is the home of bonfires, so why isn’t that record here. So we decided to go for it, to try our best to set a new record.

The Craigyhill bonfire in Larne Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

“We fundraised for nearly 10 months, and then spent two months building it.”

He said a lot of additional thought and work was put into this year’s pyre given the greater height.

“If you’ve seen it, you’ll see all the blue and red pallets. They are a stronger pallet, and take a lot more weight and pressure. That was key for us, to be safe and get the height.”

A local company is to take measurements of the pyre and issue a certificate which the bonfire committee will send to the Guinness Book of Records for consideration.

The nearby Antiville bonfire was dismantled after the death of one of the builders.

Mr Brown said that following Saturday night’s tragedy, they spoke to Mr Steele’s family and were asked to proceed with the record attempt.

“Obviously it was a tragedy, something you never thought you would have heard close to home, our hearts go out to John’s family and close friends, and to the Antiville bonfire committee,” he said.

John Steele

“Talking to the family, they wanted us to push on for the record in John’s memory so that gave us the determination to go ahead and smash the record for John – and that’s what we have done.”

Twelfth commemorations in Northern Ireland mark the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne, north of Dublin, in 1690 – a triumph that secured a Protestant line of succession to the British Crown.

Towering bonfires will be lit in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland to usher in the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season.

More than 250 bonfires have been constructed in many neighbourhoods across the region. Most are built by stacking wooden pallets.

Most of the bonfires pass off every year without incident, but a number continue to be the source of controversy.

Around a dozen fires are considered potentially problematic by police. One potential flashpoint this year is the site of a fire at Adam Street in the loyalist Tigers Bay area of north Belfast.

Nationalist residents from the nearby New Lodge estate have previously claimed the fire is located too close to the interface between the two communities - something the bonfire builders have denied.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) plan on the Twelfth being their busiest and most resource intensive day of their year, with the Eleventh Night being second.

There will be 2,500 police officers on duty on the Twelfth, which is around a third of the strength of the PSNI.

On July 12, there will be 573 loyal order parades. Of these, 33 follow routes that are deemed to be sensitive.