Kilkeel ratepayers have been relieved to lose their crown for the worst Christmas tree in Northern Ireland, after their council replaced a display that drew howls of derision from across the province.
The famous carol opines that a well decorated tree epitomises the spirit of generosity and cheer of the festive period;-
“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, You’ll ever be unchanging, A symbol of goodwill and love, You’ll ever be unchanging, Each shining light, each silver bell, No one alive spreads cheer so well.”
However Kilkeel ratepayers - who celebrate ‘Dickens Day’ every year complete with fancy dress as part of the crescendo to the big tree turn-on - felt their local authority, Newry Mourne and Down District Council, had taken more of a leaf out of Scrooge’s ‘Bah Humbug’ Christmas with the budget it allocated.
Because while their neighbours in Newcastle had £26,000 for their tree, Kilkeel got a budget of only £5000, according to one local councillor. The result was that in Kilkeel, lights were only hung on the lower branches of an old Yew tree in the town square. And when they were finally turned on, as the climax to Dickens Day on November 30, there was incredulity and laughter as hundreds of disappointed children saw only the underside of their tree lit up.
However after province-wide mockery, the shamefaced council relented, and has now erected a tree more in keeping with the famous carol.
Ratepayers once again took to social media to express their feelings. Carol Porter said: “Well done. What a difference!!!!” while Dianne Copeland spoke for many when she exclaimed: “Now that’s a Christmas Tree!!!”
Ann McKee added: “Its beautiful ... much more in keeping with the season of goodwill.”
But Kilkeel Chamber of Commerce and Kilkeel Development Association were determined to expose the roots of the problem. They said they had “continually voiced their concern” to the council since the end of October and that it was “regrettable” that it did not listen.
Last week the council said that locals had long preferred to light up their own tree, in the town square. This had been increasingly exposed to wind as it grew, causing serious damage to the lights. This year staff put the lights “along the main branches” to protect them, it added.
It accepted that both the chamber of commerce and development association were not supportive of this approach and that “the display which was arranged was not acceptable”. It has now been replaced by a traditional ‘cut’ Christmas tree, it added.