Newry Mourne and Down District Council has been left with Eggnog on its face after being labelled with possibly ‘the worst Christmas tree in Northern Ireland’.
The official turning on ceremony took place on Saturday evening in Kilkeel town square, with lots of excited families and young children expectantly looking on.
But when the big moment arrived, there was disappointment all round and hundreds took to social media to vent their feelings.
Mandy Spence Hanna said: “Such a lovely atmosphere in town yesterday. The lights were such a let down.”
Kirsty Bridges added: “At first we thought one half didn’t turn on properly only to realise that was it. Honestly, would be safer turning them off, so embarrassing?”
Fiona Edgar agreed. “Its a disgrace” she said, adding that the council does not even supply a tree but just puts light on “an old Yew tree” in the town centre. “Kids were asking why no lights all over [the tree]” she added.
Dozens of people said they were amazed at the contrast between the attractive council Christmas trees in Newcastle and Warrenpoint by comparison.
UUP Councillor Harold McKee said: “Is this the worst council Christmas tree in Northern Ireland? I have got over 600 comments on Facebook about it. It is obviously a cost cutting exercise; Kilkeel got £5k for a tree where Newcastle got £26k for theirs.” After representations from the Chamber of Commerce, he had raised the impending problem repeatedly since October 21, but to no avail, he said.
Kilkeel Chamber of Commerce said it has been advised the council will erect a new tree this week.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said it “recognises the disappointment” and is “moving forward with a solution”.
“For a number of years it has been the preference of the local community to light up a large pine tree in Kilkeel as its Christmas tree,” it said in a statement. “As the tree has grown over the years this has become increasingly difficult to light in a way which represents the traditional Christmas tree shape.
“Newry, Mourne and Down District Council managed to do this last year but this involved placing the sets of lights in such a way that they were exposed to significant movement during windy conditions, resulting in the lights breaking and requiring a lot of repair during the festive season.
“The Council spent £8000 on these lights last year and at the end of the season they were in such a poor condition that they could no longer be used.
“This year Council staff carried the lights along the main branches so that they would not be subject to the same level of movement. The Council recognises the disappointment felt by local residents and has agreed an alternative solution with local councillors.”
The council will install a nine metre “cut” Christmas tree at the lower square before this weekend, it added.