10 July 2022

Tributes paid to bonfire builder killed in fall

10 July 2022

Tributes have been paid to a man who died after falling from a bonfire in Northern Ireland.

John Steele was helping to construct the towering pyre in the Antiville estate in Larne, Co Antrim, when the incident happened on Saturday night.

The bonfire, constructed from stacked wooden pallets, was more than 50ft tall.

Police at the scene of the fatal fall at a bonfire in Larne (PA)

It was one of around 250 that have been built in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland ahead of traditional “Eleventh Night” celebrations.

The fires are lit to usher in the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season – the Twelfth of July.

The construction of the Antiville fire was nearing completion when the incident happened.

The bonfire was pulled down on Sunday as plans to ignite it were cancelled.

Mr Steele, a window cleaner aged in his 30s, was pronounced dead at the scene. He was from the Antiville area.

The bonfire was dismantled on Sunday (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

A line of floral tributes left by local people close to the scene of the dismantled bonfire grew during Sunday.

A Liverpool football shirt and the flag of a flute band were tied to a fence at the site.

A vigil was planned for later on Sunday night.

MP for the area Sammy Wilson said the community was in shock.

“It is a real tragedy at what is a special time of year for people in the loyalist community,” he said.

“The family are well-known in the area, and I am sure this will be greatly felt within the community.”

A man lays flowers near the scene (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

The mayor of Mid and East Antrim Council, Noel Williams, extended his condolences following the death.

“The loss of a young man’s life in an accident at a bonfire site in Larne is shocking and my thoughts are with his heartbroken loved ones,” he said.

“The community is hurting and my prayers are with everybody impacted by this awful tragedy.”

Stormont Justice Minister and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long tweeted: “Heartbreaking news that a young man has lost his life in a fall from a bonfire. Thinking of his family, friends and the wider community as they come to terms with this tragic loss of life.

“I hope people will give them space to grieve privately at such a difficult time.”

Police have appealed for witnesses to come forward.

Construction on the nearby Craigyhill bonfire in Larne is to continue as builders attempt to break a world record for the highest bonfire (Mark Marlow) (PA Wire)

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Inspector Adrian Bryan said: “We understand that the man was assisting in the building of the bonfire when this tragic accident occurred. Our thoughts are very much with his family at this time.”

The fatal fall in Antiville came as Larne had been making headlines for another bonfire in the town.

Bonfire builders in the nearby Craigyhill estate are attempting to break a world record for the tallest bonfire – a record which stands at 198ft.

The builders have vowed to continue with their record bid in tribute to Mr Steele’s memory.

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.

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