Vigil held for bonfire builder killed in fall

·3-min read

A vigil has been held for 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 remained at the scene on Sunday morning prior to the bonfire being dismantled (PA)
Police remained at the scene on Sunday morning prior to the bonfire being dismantled (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.

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

The bonfire was taken down on Sunday afternoon.

People gathered at the scene on Sunday night to remember Mr Steele at a vigil.

Bonfire fall
The vigil was held close to the scene of the fatal fall (Liam McBurney/PA)

A minute’s silence was held and Cairncastle Flute Band played several tunes.

The remnants of the dismantled bonfire were lit while wreaths were laid nearby.

Among those in attendance was Stormont Economy Minister and local Assembly member Gordon Lyons.

Presbyterian minister Ben Preston led prayers at the event.

He told the gathering: “We’re here from all over, from bonfire groups, from community groups, from the community here in Antiville and Craigyhill and we are here together for the family, for this community and for this people.”

Ahead of the vigil, floral tributes were left by local people close to the scene.

Bonfire fall
The Cairncastle Flute Band leader with a wreath before laying it during the vigil (Liam McBurney/PA)

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

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.”

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

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.

Bonfire record
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)

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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