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Ballymena - Antrim - Ballymena

From Railway Station

Ballymena (from the Irish: An Baile Meánach meaning "middle townland") is a town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland and the seat of Ballymena Borough Council. Ballymena had a population of 28,717 people in the 2001 Census.

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Photo Details

  • County: Antrim
  • Town: Ballymena
  • Scene: View from railway station
  • Date: c1930

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  • 10" x 8" (25.4cm x 20.3cm) printed on quality photo paper
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  • Read about Ballymena below

Ballymena, County Antrim

Ballymena (from the Irish: An Baile Meánach meaning "middle townland") is a town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland and the seat of Ballymena Borough Council. Ballymena had a population of 28,717 people in the 2001 Census.

The town is built on land given to the Adair family by King Charles I in 1626, on the basis that the town hold two annual fairs and a free Saturday market in perpetuity. The Saturday market still runs and the town hosts Ireland’s largest two day agricultural show at the Ballymena Showgrounds. There are still many historic buildings in the town. The Town Hall was built in 1924 on the site of the old Market House. The Adair Arms Hotel is one of the town’s most notable buildings.

Early history

The recorded history of the Ballymena area dates to the Early Christian period from the 5th to the 7th centuries. Ringforts found in the townland of Ballykeel and a site known as Camphill Fort in the townland of Ballee may also have been of this type. There are a number of souterrain sites within a 2 km radius of the centre of Ballymena.

Two miles north of Ballymena in the townland of Kirkinriola, the ancient parish church and graveyard possess several indicators of Early Christian settlement including a souterrain. Also in 1868, a gravedigger found a large stone slab on which was carved a cross with the inscription ord do degen. This refers to Bishop Degen, who lived in Ireland during the 7th century. This stone is now in the porch of the Parish Church of St Patrick, in the Parish of Kilconriola, which is found in Castle Street, Ballymen.

In the 12th century, the Normans conquered much manner that was to be repeated centuries later by the good people of Harryville.

of County Antrim and County Down and created the core of the Earldom of Ulster. During this campaign they built great mounds of earth topped by wooden towers, referred to as mottes, as defensive structures. Harryville's motte-and-bailey is one of the best examples of this type of fortification in Northern Ireland. Some sources, however, credit the Uí Fhloinn with building the mid-Antrim mottes and baileys in imitation of the invaders; the Uí Fhloinn defeated and repelled the Earl of Ulster, John de Courcy, in 1177 and 1178.

In 1315, Edward Bruce (brother of King Robert I of Scotland, known as "Robert Bruce") invaded Ireland. On September 10, 1315, at the Battle of Tawnybrack (5 miles south of Ballymena at Kells), Edward conquered the army of Richard De Burgo, the Norman Earl of Ulster.

In 1576, Queen Elizabeth I granted land, including the town of Ballymena, to Sir Thomas Smith. The lands had been forfeited to the crown after Shane O'Neill's resistance in the 1560s. Smith brought English settlers to the area. By 1581, Smith's settlement failed and the lands reverted to the crown.

On May 10, 1607, King James I granted the native Irish chief, Ruairí Óg MacQuillan the Ballymena Estate. The estate passed through several owners, eventually passing into the possession of William Adair, a Scottish laird from Kinhilt in southwestern Scotland. The estate was temporarily renamed "Kinhilstown" after the Adair's lands in Scotland. The original castle of Ballymena was built in the early 17th century, situated to take advantage of an ancient ford over the River Braid. In 1626 Charles I confirmed the grant of the Ballymena Estate to William Adair, giving him the right to hold a market at Ballymena on every Saturday.

In 1641, the local Ballymena garrison fought against the rebels but had to retreat to Carrickfergus. Ballymena's first market house (on the site of the present town hall) was built in 1684.

In 1690, the Duke of Württemburg, a Williamite general, used Galgorm Castle as his headquarters. Sir Robert Adair raised a Regiment of Foot for King William III and fought at the Battle of the Boyne.

By 1704, the population of Ballymena had reached 800. In 1707, the first Protestant (Church of Ireland) parish church was built. In 1740, the original Ballymena Castle burned down. The Gracehill Moravian settlement was founded in 1765. During the 1798 rebellion, Ballymena was occupied from June 7 to June 9 by a force of around 10,000 United Irishmen, who stormed the Market House (now the Town Hall) killing three of its defenders.

The first modern Roman Catholic church in Ballymena was not consecrated until 1827. By 1834 the population of Ballymena was about 4,000. In 1848 the Belfast and Ballymena Railway was established. In 1865 Robert Alexander Shafto Adair started building Ballymena Castle, a magnificent family residence, in the Demesne. The castle was not completed until 1887.

20th century

In 1900, Ballymena assumed urban status. The Adairs disposed of most of their Ballymena estate to the occupying tenants in 1904, under the provisions of the Irish Land Act of 1903. The “old” town hall building, which also contained the post office and estate office, burned down in 1919. Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) laid the cornerstone to the new town hall on July 24, 1924, and it was officially opened on November 20, 1928. The Urban District Council petitioned for borough status and the Charter was granted in December 1937. The first meeting of councillors as a borough Council was held on May 23, 1939. The population of Ballymena reached 13,000. Ballymena Castle was demolished in the 1950s. In 1973, the Urban and Rural District Councils were merged to create the present Ballymena Borough Council.

During the later half of the 20th century, Ballymena, like many other once prosperous industrial centres in Northern Ireland, experienced an economic downturn with many of its former factories closing. Ballymena is now becoming a centre of information-based, international corporations and major retail outlets.

Early in the 1990s the Royal Irish Regiment whose Regimental Headquarters is at St Patrick's Barracks in the town, was controversially granted the Freedom of the Borough. In March 2000, the actor Liam Neeson, a native of Ballymena, was offered the freedom of the borough by the council, which approved the action by a 12-9 vote. The Democratic Unionist Party objected to the offer and drew attention to his comments from a 1999 interview with the American political magazine George, in which Neeson complained that while growing up he felt Catholics were "second-class citizens" and described the Battle of the Boyne as "some bloody obscure war." The DUP preferred that the award should honor their leader Ian Paisley, who was eventually made a freeman of Ballymena in December 2004. Neeson declined the award, citing tensions, and affirmed he was proud of his connection to the town.

Ballymena is described by some observers as being at the heart of Northern Ireland's equivalent of the Bible Belt,this is due to a minority, though a very vocal one, who due to their religious beliefs are unwilling to adapt to changing social attitudes to various issues, such as homosexuality. It should be remembered that this does not necessarily reflect the overall views of the town's population. A notible example of this attitude was when DUP councillor Roy Gillespie stopped rock band ELO playing in the town for fear that it would encourage Satanism among the town's young population. A Town with a Protestant majority,though in recent years there has been a considerable growth in the catholic community leading to increased sectarian tensions. It is also severely afflicted with heroin addiction; half of the registered heroin addicts in Northern Ireland are in the town, with approximately one person out of 60 in the town a heroin user.

People

  • Alexander Campbell was from the town. Campbell was a leader in the Restoration Movement.
  • Sir Roger Casement, campaigner for the Congolese people and Irish revolutionary was educated in the town.
  • Timothy Eaton, the Canadian businessman who founded the Eaton's department store, was born in Ballymena.
  • Graham Forsythe, the Canadian artist, was born in Ballymena.
  • James McHenry, signatory of the United States Constitution, was also from Ballymena
  • Dr. Syd Millar, the former Ireland rugby player and current chairman of the IRB, was born in Ballymena and in 2004 was awarded the Freedom of the town.
  • Liam Neeson, the Oscar-nominated actor, was raised in Ballymena.
  • Ian Paisley, the controversial reverend and politician, was born in Armagh but raised in Ballymena.
  • Northern Irish Olympian Mary Peters was raised in Ballymena.
  • Alexander Wright, a Victoria Cross recipient during the Crimean War, was born in the town.
  • Ian Cochrane, novelist. Demographics

    Ballymena is classified as a Large Town by the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (ie with population of between 18,000 and 75,000 people). On Census day (29 April 2001) there were 28,717 people living in Ballymena. Of these:

    • 21.6% were aged under 16 years and 19.6% were aged 60 and over
    • 47.5% of the population were male and 52.5% were female
    • 24.2% were from a Catholic background and 72.2% were from a Protestant background
    • 3.9% of people aged 16-74 were unemployed.