“There are no words to sum up the moments of love…”: tributes at the funeral of bonfire builder John Steele


A man who died after falling from a Larne bonfire will never be forgotten, mourners heard at his funeral.

Ohn Steele, who was in his thirties, died last Saturday evening in the Antiville estate.

A private service for family and close friends was led by Craigy Hill Presbyterian Church minister Ben Preston at Mr Steele’s home in Lindara Drive before moving to Larne Cemetery.

“It’s a family reunion and it’s a family time, but we appreciate the presence of the wider community today,” Reverend Preston said.


John Steele’s funeral from his home in Antiville, by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

John Steele’s funeral from his home in Antiville, by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Those wishing to pay their respects to the bonfire builder were asked to stand outside to listen through a speaker system.

The service has heard of the father-of-two’s roots in the estate, noting that he attended school in the area. Mr Steele’s love of motorbikes, fishing and Staffordshire bull terriers was also mentioned.

“Clearly John was a guy who when you met him once you would remember him,” Reverend Preston added.

“He was always with a hat and shorts. We share these memories, not to make him a saint or clean him up, but John was loved by his family and there are no words to sum up the loving moments.”

The service also paid tribute to those who were there when Mr Steele fell from the bonfire.

“On that fateful night, more would be asked of you and none of us could imagine the tragedy that could have unfolded. I was there next to all of you, your hearts breaking when he passed away. John is gone, but he is not forgotten. You will miss him and want him here, but you don’t carry this alone,” Reverend Preston said.


Funeral of John Steele from his home in Antiville by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Funeral of John Steele from his home in Antiville by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Funeral of John Steele from his home in Antiville by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

It was reported that after Mr Steele fell, a witness performed CPR on him until paramedics arrived. The support and help of those around the bonfire was also acknowledged by the family.

Reverend Preston added: “The family would like to thank everyone who tried to help John that evening, the emergency services including the police, ambulance services and fire and help.”

He also referred to some of the comments made online regarding Mr Steele’s death.

“John’s death has touched so many…this community of Antiville and Craigyhill is so touched by what happened,” he added.

“I’m sure a lot of us saw some horrible things in the backlash and reaction to John’s death. Watch John’s death be a catalyst for good, not hate.

The service took place a few meters from where the bonfire was. It was dismantled shortly after his death as a mark of respect, with a vigil held to mark Mr Steele’s life on Sunday evening.

The Craigyhill bonfire, which should not be confused with the Anitville bonfire from which Mr Steele fell, has made headlines for its attempt to become the tallest bonfire ever built and is also located at proximity. The builders later said they had completed the bonfire in memory of Mr Steele.

After the service was over, the Antiville estate watched in silence as Mr Steele’s coffin was carried from his home, with mourners becoming emotional as You’ll Never Walk Alone was played. Mr Steele was an avid Liverpool FC fan, with his children wearing club shirts at the funeral.

Deputy Mayor Beth Adger, who attended the funeral, said she visited the Steele family earlier that morning. She described the Lindara Drive scene as a “very sad house”.

“The Minister spoke well and spoke to the community. The community spirit is clear and everyone is here to help the family at this terribly sad time,” she said.

“I sent my condolences to the family on behalf of the mayor and the general manager.”

His comments came after the Belfast Telegraph reported that three days before Mr Steele’s death, a former police officer had written to the council’s acting chief executive, Valerie Watt, warning the council of the risk of falling bonfires In the region.

Asked about the reaction to Mr Steele’s death, which was alluded to by Reverend Preston in his sermon, Ms Adger said: ‘You always get hateful comments everywhere. These people will have to live with this themselves from their own conscience.
Noting the large crowd gathered around Mr Steele’s house and the procession that followed his coffin, Ms Adger added: ‘Different communities are here today and that is how it should be.


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