The Craigyhill bonfire in Larne has been meticulously planned and constructed by qualified experts, claims its organiser, who is hoping for world record
When a DUP councillor hailed a massive bonfire in Co Antrim as a “feat of engineering”, it triggered a wave of mockery and derision on social media.
Video footage of the Craigyhill pyre towering above nearby houses in Larne also provoked criticism from nationalist politicians, including a Sinn Fein councillor and an SDLP MLA.
While they expressed fears about health and safety, keyboard warriors flocked online to disparage those involved in the effort to create the world’s biggest bonfire.
Builders were smeared as “idiots”, “stupid” and “thick” by sniggering social media users.
However, it was the unsolicited advice urging those involved in the project to “get a job” that struck a nerve.
That’s because most of them already have one.
According to one of the masterminds of the initiative, 95% of the dozens of people engaged in the mammoth task have been doing so after a hard day’s graft.
They’ve gladly been giving up their evenings and weekends for the duration of the eight-week construction phase.
“They are aged 19 and upwards and safety is not a concern,” the anonymous organiser said.
“Only 10 people are allowed at the top and they are the ones with the most experience.
“They wear harnesses and safety equipment and have been doing it for decades.”
The more inexperienced builders remain closer to ground level and pass the pallets up, which is not as simple a process as it initially sounds.
“Pallets are different colours, shapes and sizes,” the bonfire builder explained.
“Each one must be in the right place for the structure to stand.
“Certain ones have to go on the outside and its important to make sure the support is there.”
The qualified tradesperson, who runs his own construction business, expressed disappointment at the attitude of critics.
“I run my own firm and employ 10 men. I turn over £500,000 a year,” he said.
“Most of these guys building this work in the industry and have manual-handling certificates.
“The ones who operate the cherry pickers have licences to do so.
“Risk assessments [were] carried out and the bonfire is bolted together. It has around 7,000 screws.”
A committee made up of around 20 members, including three people from a Catholic background, oversees the work to ensure it aligns with plans drawn up well in advance.
It also meets once a month throughout the year to co-ordinate fundraising efforts to pay the whopping bill — which is tens of thousands of pounds — for the estimated 30,000 pallets.
“Not one of them has been stolen and we’ve never been accused of stealing,” the businessman said.
“We buy them from companies all over the place. Plenty of firms have twigged on to the fact they can make a pound or two from flogging pallets.
“I’m not going to shy away from the fact that it costs a lot of money, but we fundraise all year by shaving heads, doing ballots, etc.
“The money is raised specifically for this purpose and we have receipts for every single pallet.”
They refused to reveal the exact bill in order to prevent critics “whining about what the money could have been used for” instead.
The project is now entering its final phase, which means climbing is now completely forbidden.
A crane has been contracted to help builders place the final touches on the bonfire, which will reach 200ft if all goes to plan.
“It will be 150ft of pallets and then there’s a 50ft hollow beacon to add on,” the organiser explained.
“The measurements have all been done and a cordon will go up once it is finished.”
The organiser praised the committee for its success in building harmonious relationships with the local council and partner agencies.
But they slammed nationalist critics and accused Sinn Fein of “hiding behind the mask” of health and safety to undermine the “Festival of Culture” due to go ahead on July 11.
“We have promised to put on a show and have fire dancers coming from Dublin, DJs doing sets and the band Fusion will be performing on a stage,” the event planner said.
“We’ve also hired Portaloos and generators and have poured our own money into the kids’ fun day to top up council funding.
“It’s not just for the Protestant community, it is for everyone.
“It doesn’t matter to us what colour your skin is or what background you are from.”
The proud loyalist acknowledged “insensitive” behaviour in the past when Irish flags and other effigies were set ablaze.
They promised the relevant adjustments have been made to ensure Catholic neighbours and foreign visitors, including Irish people and international TV crews, are not offended.
The exhausted organiser has also vowed this will be the last year that such an enormous pyre is erected.
“We will downgrade next year,” they said.
“This is a one-off attempt to break a record then we will downscale, because this is a lot of hard work.”
Bonfire builders will have to wait until July 11 to know if they have achieved their ambitious goal.
However, that will be followed by a tense wait before it’s known if they will officially be crowned Guinness World Record holders.
“We have hired an independent and private land mapping firm to come and do the measurements,” the excited organiser explained.
“They will create a 3D map and confirm the height there and then.
“The official paperwork will take another week and then we will have to wait and see if Guinness World Records accept our entry.
“We aren’t too worried, though, because even if they don’t, we will always know that we built the biggest bonfire in the world.”