Sign up for our newsletter
Community / Public space

An artist set fire to a wooden temple to celebrate peace in Northern Ireland

Sculptor David Best built his first temple at a music festival in 2000. Made of intricately carved scraps of wood, it was a tribute to a friend who died in a motorcycle accident, and, as the Burning Man festival drew to a close, Best set the whole thing on fire. 

Since then, Best has built seven temples, mostly in the USA. But this year, he was persuaded to construct one on a hill overlooking Derry/Londonderry, as a way to bring Protestants and Catholics together, commemorate those killed during the Troubles, and celebrate peace.

The temple was built of balsa wood and was characteristically intricate (we think it looks a bit like somewhere Gandalf might live), and was built with the help of local workers.

For a week before the incineration, locals were able to visit and leave their tributes and messages. Some commemorated dead family members, while others paid tribute to, er, the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

White papers from our partners

Image: Getty.

On Saturday, the 75 foot tall structure was filled with scraps of wood and set alight, as thousands of onlookers watched. 

The ritual was particularly apt in Derry/Londonderry, a city riven with sectarian tensions in the ’60s and ’70s, and where burning bonfires was a symbol of loyalty to your cause and hostility to others’. Through his sculpture, Best has tried to invert this meaning, so that the bonfire becomes one of unity and community.

As he told the BBC, the erection and then burning of the sculpture ultimately reflects the catharsis of the peace process: “There is grief, but there is also absolute joy”. 
This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.