VIDEO: Builder of Eleventh Night bonfire which aims to beat the Guinness world record for highest pyre says trio of Catholics helping with construction as towering structures near completion across Northern Ireland ahead of Twelfth of July loyalist celebrations

One of the men behind what could be the world’s tallest-ever bonfire has spoken in detail about how it has come into being – and also says that the 20-strong committee running it contains three Catholics.

The Craigyhill bonfire in north-west Larne currently stands at about 100ft tall at time of writing, and the intention is to roughly double that by the time the edifice is set ablaze on the Eleventh Night.

It is being put together by a group called simply The Craigyhill Bonfire Committee, and its treasurer spoke in detail about its construction to the News Letter.

The bonfire-builder, David, wants his surname kept private on the basis that he runs an NI-wide business and does not want anyone put off by his association with the event.

The Craigyhill Bonfire in Larne taking shape from top left to top right, and bottom left to bottom right. The first picture was taken June 12, and the latest picture was taken today, July 6.

He said that the edifice has been a whole year in the planning.

First is the issue of obtaining the wood.

The committee has been doing fundraising events all year, ranging from a local lottery and raffles to seasonal discos and sponsored head-shaving, he said.

Most of this money goes on wooden pallets, which can cost anything from £1 to £3 each.

The current holder of the 'world's biggest bonfire' record

He estimates that there have been roughly 52 lorry loads delivered to the site.

At 360 pallets per lorry, that would make some 18,700-or-so individual pallets.

The total estimated spending so far is around £40,000, and that also covers entertainment on the night (including a troupe of fire performers up from Dublin).

Rather than driving support stakes into the ground or lashing the structure down with ropes or chains, the outer ring of pallets is screwed together with three screws per pallet.

Corcrain bonfire in Portadown

Then this outer ‘skeleton’ is filled in with more wood.

The structure has taken shape over the last six or so weeks, and this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the builders have hired a crane to help them rapidly increase the height.

The end point will be when they screw a relatively-lightweight 35ft beacon on to the top of the tower.

If all goes according to plan, the final structure will be slightly over the current world record of 198.916ft.

Ballycraigy bonfire, Antrim

The Guinness Book of Records says that this is held by a bonfire in Lustenau, Austria.

It was burned on March 16, 2019, as part of an annual end-of-winter carnival.

‘THIS IS FOR EVERYONE – NOT JUST PROTESTANTS’:

David said “believe it or not... we have three Catholic members on our committee”.

They just showed an interest while watching the bonfire taking shape over the years, he said, and ended up joining the organising body.

“This is open to everybody,” David was keen to stress.

Glencairn bonfire in Belfast - another monster-sized one

“It’s not just for Protestants – it’s open to everybody. That’s why we’ve sort of changed the name to, if you look at our poster, a ‘festival of culture’.

“Nothing about that bonfire is sectarian. We’ve decided there’s gonna be no flags whatsoever on that bonfire this year – no tricolours – and there were never any election posters on it anyway.

“Yes, we have our own flags on it, the union jack and that. But you have to understand it’s still to do with our culture.”

On the Eleventh night German TV are set to come and report on the fire.

French visitors are expected too, and just the other day he had a visit from a Cambodian man who was curious about the concept.

Safety-wise, David said that they have been talking to the fire brigade who “don’t seem to have a problem with it”.

There will be a 40ft cordon around the pyre manned with stewards and first-aiders, and it will be set on fire (mid-way up, not at the base) at midnight on July 11 / 12.

‘MY WIFE UNDERSTANDS SHE JUST WON’T SEE ME FOR A WHILE’:

David added: “This isn’t just something we rustle up. It’s years and years of perfecting this.

“We have like a monthly meeting where we discuss finances, health and safety, how we’re going to build together.

“We’re not going to be building one as big next year. But we’ve decided to go for the record [now], and hopefully we get it.

“If we fall short, it’s not going to be the end of the world.

“But we believe the tallest bonfire in the world should be in Northern Ireland – it’s the home of bonfires.”

He added his committee has contacted the Guinness Book of Records, “and they know what’s happening”.

But rather than pay thousands of pounds for a Guinness adjudicator to come over to Co Antrim, they have hired a surveying firm to measure the bonfire using lasers and a drone this coming Monday.

“If Guinness Book of Records will accept it, that’s entirely up to them. It won’t matter to us either way... as long as we’ve the record,” he said.

In Northern Ireland his biggest rival bonfires are Ballycraigy in Antrim town and Corcrain in Portadown, David said.

As to the sheer human effort required to build the structure, David said everyone on the committee has jobs, and that ““I’ve two kids, a wife, and a dog, who I haven’t seen for six weeks.

“My wife understands. She knows this time of the year she never sees me. Whether or not that’s a good thing or bad thing I don’t know, you’d have to ask her.”