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Tragic bonfire builder was third person to die near Larne bonfire sites

John Steele fell 50ft to his death from the bonfire in Larne
John Steele

John Steele

A telescopic digger knocks the Antiville bonfire over following the death of Mr Steele.  The bonfire in Antiville, Larne County Antrim where John Steele lost his life.  Mr Steele fell from the top and was pronounced dead by paramedics later at the scene.

A telescopic digger knocks the Antiville bonfire over following the death of Mr Steele. The bonfire in Antiville, Larne County Antrim where John Steele lost his life. Mr Steele fell from the top and was pronounced dead by paramedics later at the scene.

Hugh JordanSunday World

Tragic bonfire builder John Steele was the THIRD person to die near the seaside port’s bonfire sites, the Sunday World can reveal.

And following his funeral, residents are now questioning the future of bonfires in the Co Antrim town.

“The fun has gone out of bonfires in Larne. How could you celebrate a bonfire with John Steele in his grave?” said one local mum who spoke at length to us this week.

“Over the years bonfire building was a great tradition in this town since these estates were built. Wee boys of all religions collected old furniture for the bonfire and it definitely was a real community event.

“But once the paramilitaries took over things changed. Most Catholics have been forced out. And after John’s death I just don’t think it will ever be the same.

“You just wonder what the future will bring?”

A telescopic digger knocks the Antiville bonfire over following the death of Mr Steele.  The bonfire in Antiville, Larne County Antrim where John Steele lost his life.  Mr Steele fell from the top and was pronounced dead by paramedics later at the scene.

A telescopic digger knocks the Antiville bonfire over following the death of Mr Steele. The bonfire in Antiville, Larne County Antrim where John Steele lost his life. Mr Steele fell from the top and was pronounced dead by paramedics later at the scene.

We were told that despite the excitement of the 11th Night festivities, bonfire sites in Larne have become dangerous places for young people.

“If you cross the paramilitaries, your life can be snuffed out in seconds,” an elderly male resident told us.

Rodney Patrick McCormick was the first to lose his life on a Larne bonfire site back in 1980.

Born in 1958, Rodney lived with his family in the town centre where he attended St Comgall’s Catholic Secondary School.

As the Troubles developed, McCormick fell in with a bad crowd. They discovered it was easier to rob money than to work for a living.

After a jewellery shop was robbed in Ballymena, police caught those responsible on their way back to Larne. They all made full confessions and nine gang members were jailed for a string of offences.

On his release, McCormick got married and settled down. He even got himself a job in the local Courtaulds Factory and when he was made redundant, he got another job in the firm’s factory in Carrickfergus, but it too closed soon afterwards.

After Rodney’s wife had given birth to a baby boy the couple moved to a house on the edge of the Antiville estate, which by that time was UDA territory.

On August 24, 1980, the McCormicks were returning home after a night out when they were confronted by a UDA killer gang. Rodney was shot 10 times a short distance from the Antiville bonfire site. He was 22.

In July 2000, UVF man Andrew Cairns (22) was brutally beaten before being shot dead in Larne at an 11th Night bonfire event at Boyne Square.

Cairns’ crime was to have sung a UVF song at an event in the nearby Rangers Supporters Club, which was frequented mainly by UDA men.

It is expected bonfire builder John’s Steele’s death will bring renewed security force interest in the South East Antrim UDA in Larne.

We have passed on full details of our inquiries into John’s death to the police in Larne. And earlier this week the PSNI issued an appeal for eye witnesses to come forward.

“In order to establish the circumstances surrounding the death, police are asking anyone who witnessed it to come forward and speak to them,” said the police

The SEA UDA is currently carrying out an investigation aimed at discovering the names of locals who spoke to this newspaper.


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