Larne casts off TV barbs to land best Ulster town
The much-maligned town of Larne has won an award - for its magnificent floral displays.
Residents of the Co Antrim coastal hub were left horrified last year by a controversial BBC documentary about their community.
Viewers said the True North documentary I Love Larne painted the town as a place that was going under and had nothing to offer.
Thousands signed a petition calling for an apology from the BBC.
Now Larne has confounded its critics by winning the Best Town category of the Translink Ulster in Bloom competition at a special awards ceremony in Belfast's Malone House.
The awards, organised by Northern Ireland Local Government Association, also recognised Derry as Best City, Antrim as Best Large Town, Ahoghill as Best Small Town, Hillsborough as Best Large Village, Glenarm as Best Village and Scarva as Best Small Village.
Larne's park manager Ben Simon said no one who lives or works in Larne took the documentary seriously.
"Different people have different views of places. I think it's a great wee town - everyone's friendly," he said.
"It's a friendly wee open community, it's right on the edge of the Glens and edging Larne Lough and Islandmagee, and the hills around it are fantastic.
"I challenge anyone to come and have a look at our parks and public spaces - the promenade, Dixon Park, Smiley Park. The list goes on and on, it's a pleasant place."
Council staff have worked closely with local communities to improve areas, giving out free plants and encouraging them to nurture their own, he said.
"A lot of work has been done by Dixon Park Residents Association," Mr Simon added.
"We created a poly-tunnel which the residents association use for growing plants which they give out for hanging baskets around the neighbourhood."
After the documentary aired in October, councillors branded it a "PR disaster" but insisted it had brought the people of Larne closer together.
The Translink Ulster in Bloom competition awarded the Most Improved title jointly to Gracehill and Limavady, while the winner of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board Giro d'Italia award is Loughgall.
The I Love Larne documentary was billed as a depiction of the town's quest to overcome economic hardships, but viewers branded it "cringeworthy", "shameful" and "misleading". After it aired, Larne was the seventh most talked about topic trending on UK Twitter, with critics focusing on claims by some locals in the programme that the town was going under.