I have mentioned before that I grew up in the Northern Irish seaside town of Larne, so when I saw that BBC NI were showing a programme called “I Love Larne” on Monday evening, I was keen to see how they would promote my home town. However, it is fair to say that many of the viewers were somewhat disappointed that the programme was not quite what they expected. If you want to see the programme, it is on iPlayer here.
I very much enjoyed growing up in Larne, and still make regular visits back to see family and friends, and have on multiple occasions taken groups to visit the town, from coach loads as a student , through my wedding party there, to a more recent event where we booked out the Ballygally Castle Hotel for sixty of our friends from around the world to meet up for dinner. I remember on one occasion, about 20 years ago, a South American student studying in Newcastle, after a night out in the nearby Meetinghouse Pub as part of their Halloween celebrations, being so excited about her trip to Larne that when we stopped for a traditional post-pub visit to a burger van, she felt obliged to phone home to tell her family where she was. The local burger vendor was so impressed by how far she had come that he gave her a free burger.
For many people, their first glimpse of Larne is as they sail into the harbour on one of the various ferry crossings, where the Maidens lighthouses come into view. I have written before about the Maidens, and their odd shape, looking like a submarine from the right angle. Up close, however, you can see the old lighthouse on one island and the newer lighthouse on the other.
As you get closer to shore, you see the Chaine Memorial Tower, another impressive local monument that you can read more about here.
As a child, I spent many happy summer days – and a few of the less sunny parts of the year too – playing on the rocks and beaches around the tower. I did not realise how lucky I was to live in walking distance to the sea, to the beach, and to a promenade where we could look for and find fossils in the rocks.
In fact, like many local residents, the view of the Tower is a favourite of mine, and looks best at sunrise or sunset.
As you walk beyond the Tower, you might just spot the Alexander Hamilton Memorial Fountain, just along the path.
I took Berta, my dog, for a visit, and she seemed to enjoy her time on the beach at Sandy Bay, right beside the Tower.
Berta also enjoyed playing in the woods that run alongside the promenade that leads from the Tower to the nearby Town Park, a philanthropic gift to the town, and another childhood haunt of mine.
The park is accessed via the path known locally as The Snake, and cycling up it as a ten year old was no mean feat…
However, the top of The Snake gives a fantastic view back over the promenade and to the harbour.
Walking along the promenade, the sound of the waves washing up on the beach – which is often far from tranquil – often makes me stop to watch the waves and take in the power of nature. Despite having moved away from Larne many years ago, I still miss walking along the promenade.
Still sunny today and blue skies, just a bit more wind. #Sea #Larne A photo posted by Mark Haggan (@markhaggan) on
The signs along the promenade give an idea of how much nautical activity happens in the area.
As well as the Town Park being somewhere to play tennis, or to play on the slide or whatever, the vast amount of grass was a great area to play football or other ball games as a child.
Back to the harbour, and looking the other direction from the Tower gives a view of the more industrial side of the town; the port, the power station and the lighthouse. The Port of Larne is a major roll on roll off port, allowing transport and commerce with Scotland, and the world beyond. The lighthouse at the entrance to Larne Lough – a sea inlet that includes Swan Island, an international important bird breeding site and an Area of Special Scientific Interest – helps to keep the shipping ways safe, and the huge Ballylumford power station beside it is a major power generator for Northern Ireland.
However, the world of shipping is not always safe, and the Princess Victoria disaster of 1953 had a major impact on Larne at the time.
There are other good views of Larne. Going into the hills behind the town, you can see it from above, which gives some very different perspectives on how the roads and streets join together.
As well as the mighty Caterpillar factory in the last photo – always the GEC in my mind, the factory’s former owner – you get an idea of just how close to Scotland Larne is.
I can say that the local cows are both friendly and inquisitive, and came to say hello as I was taking a few photos.
Of course, I do have some form in attracting cows to come to exchange pleasantries…
Like many things in life, I only realised the benefits of growing up somewhere like Larne when I moved away from it. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but for a market town of its size, there was plenty to do – not that I always thought it at the time – and since then, the huge leisure centre has arrived, and transport links to Belfast and beyond have improved too. The stories of the town and its residents – its ancient marketplace, the haunted Ballygally Castle, the ruins of Olderfleet Castle, the arrival of the Vikings, Edward the Bruce’s invasion, the waves of emigration to the Americas and beyond, the Larne Gunrunning – could make a long running series never mind a single television programme, and the town’s recent fame as the backdrop for television’s Game of Thrones, which is partly filmed in the area, has brought a whole new type of tourist. My friends who have visited the town from around the world invariably love it, and have had many great trips there. Whether or not the BBC programme makers had their tongues firmly in their cheeks when they named their programme, and can confidently say that after all these years, one thing hasn’t changed: I love Larne.