Craigyhill’s mattress mountain shows why bonfires need to be regulated - The Irish News view

Build brighter futures, not ever-bigger Eleventh Night bonfires

Mattresses dumped at Craigyhill Bonfire in Larne. NO BYLINE
Mattresses piled up at Craigyhill Bonfire in Larne

The most unhinged excesses of the loyalist bonfire season have come to be exemplified by the towering fume-spewing structure erected at Craigyhill in Larne.

Last year’s monstrous Eleventh Night effort to build the self-styled ‘world’s tallest bonfire’ reached a claimed 210ft and, undaunted by common sense, the organisers are intent on surpassing this.

Preparations for this bonfire of the insanities are already underway. As well as the traditional mountain range of pallets, it is highly alarming to also see industrial quantities of filthy old mattresses being amassed.

The ‘bonfire team’ is hopeful that more than 1,600 of these will be built into the pyre - a post on a social media account charting the build welcomes “Another 40-footer full of mattresses… boooom”.

Unsavoury comments about migrants are a theme of the replies to the posts, which show photographs of a lorry stuffed with mattresses. Piles of mattresses, arranged as if they were prehistoric standing stones, have been heaped at the site.

The Craigyhill bonfire is the culmination of a three-day ‘festival of culture’, though many people will struggle to see the merits of a culture that venerates toxic beacons.

The environmental damage bonfires cause is self-evident. So too is the risk they pose to life and limb - John Steele (36) died after falling from a bonfire he was helping to build in Antiville, near Craigyhill, in 2022.

As well as the traditional mountain range of pallets, it is highly alarming to also see industrial quantities of filthy old mattresses being amassed at Craigyhill. The ‘bonfire team’ wants to build more than 1,600 of these into the pyre

Bonfires are all too often hotbeds of sectarianism, with flags and emblems associated with the Catholic and nationalist community frequently burned, along with Sinn Féin, SDLP and Alliance election posters. We reported last year on a ‘hut of hate’ at an east Belfast bonfire site that was decked out in violent, sectarian and Nazi images.

It is important to acknowledge that there are Eleventh Night celebrations which are conducted responsibly. But there are not enough of these, and far too often a blind eye is turned to stoking division and wanton damage to property and the environment.

There is a parallel with how paramilitary flags are erected with apparent impunity. The Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition did produce a report on addressing these issues, but the Stormont Executive seems allergic to doing anything about its recommendations.

Proper statutory regulation and enforcement around bonfires is badly needed. That includes where they are placed, what they are built from and their size.

In the meantime, unionist political leaders could help move the conversation in the right direction. That seems a distant possibility; Sammy Wilson, DUP MP for East Antrim, used parliamentary time last July to table a motion declaring the Craigyhill bonfire efforts as “an example of what is best in Northern Ireland”. This is patent nonsense, even by Mr Wilson’s standards.

Rather than building bigger bonfires, we should be building a better future for everyone in this community.