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Strabane dwarfs all other towns as the undisputed home of the gnome in Northern Ireland

By Staff Reporter

Just a month after being unveiled as the most romantic town in Northern Ireland, Strabane has once again topped the charts - this time for its gnome appeal.

Over the past 12 months the Co Tyrone border town has snapped up more garden gnomes than any other in Northern Ireland, according to supermarket chain Asda.

The sales spike comes after 10 years of decline, as our gnome population is estimated to have more than halved between 2005 and 2015.

But thanks to evidence from Strabane and other places, retail experts are predicting a garden gnome comeback in 2017 following a redesign to further enhance their appeal.

Unlike the little chaps of years gone by, which were typically about 10in in height, the new trend is for giant-sized versions a metre tall.

Asda, which last year launched its own range of giant garden gnomes, saw a 400% increase in sales, defying all expectations. The giant-sized versions are more difficult to kidnap - a major problem during the 1980s and 1990s, when the gnome abduction epidemic even reached Coronation Street.

The 2017 reincarnation offers more diversity and equality, with female gnome characters, gnomes of different generations, LGBT rainbow gnomes and bride and groom gnomes.

The supermarket is expecting to sell more than 800,000 across the UK this year - more than double the population of Iceland.

Sales are anticipated to spike between now and the end of June, as people repopulate their gardens and apartment balconies with the traditional outdoor ornament.

While Strabane is Northern Ireland's gnome capital, other regional hotspots include Bolton, Cardiff and Dundee.

Peter Beckett, store manager of Asda Strabane, said: "Despite dividing opinion for decades, our new breed of garden gnomes sold fantastically well in Strabane and throughout the north west in 2016.

"We think it's a nostalgia thing, combined with the fact that the newer bigger incarnations look more friendly and relatable to modern life - and, dare I say it, less tacky.

"Customers with gardens big and small tell us that they love the bigger versions as they make a statement amongst plants and brighten a grey balcony - they have strong Instagrammble potential, too."

Gnomes were first introduced to the British Isles in 1847 by renowned gardener Sir Charles Edmund Isham, and our love affair reached peak popularity in the 1970s after manufacturers introduced ranges of novelty gnomes in a plethora of costumes.

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