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Ballymena ( ) is a town in County Antrim, Northern Irelandmarker and the seat of Ballymena Borough Councilmarker. 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.

The town used to host Ireland’s largest one-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 Town Hall has just recently be refurbished in 2007 at a cost of approx £20 million.


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 1¼ mile (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, Ballymena.

At the end of the 5th century, a church was founded in Connor, 5 miles south of Ballymena. This was followed by a monastery at Templemoyle, Kells. In 831, however, the Norse invaded the Ballymena area, burning the church.

In the 12th century, the Normans conquered much 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 forfeit 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 Carrickfergusmarker. Ballymena's first market house (on the site of the present town hall) was built in 1684.

In 1690, the Duke of Württembergmarker, 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 Gracehillmarker 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 consecrated in 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.

In 1870 The People's Park, Ballymenamarker was established, now a mature and beautiful setting, which continues to be a very popular park today.

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 councilors 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 Councilmarker.

During the Second World War, Ballymena was home to a large number of Gibraltarianmarker evacuees. [108045]

Like other towns in Northern Ireland, Ballymena was affected by the Troubles. A total of eleven people were killed in or near the town, most of them by various loyalist groups.

During the later half of the 20th century, Ballymena, like many other once prosperous industrial centres in Northern Ireland, experienced economic change with many of its former factories closing. Ballymena is now becoming a centre of information-based, international corporations and major retail outlets. However unlike other towns it retains a very successful manufacturing industry, with major employers such as Michelin and Gallaher, and the extremely successful local firm Wrightbus.

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 an interview in 1999 with an American political magazine, George. Neeson declined the award, citing tensions, and affirmed he was proud of his connection to the town. Ian Paisley was eventually made a freeman of Ballymena in December 2004 instead.

Ballymena is described by some observers as being at the heart of Northern Irelandmarker's equivalent of the Bible Belt. It should be remembered that this does not necessarily reflect the overall views of the town's population. The town has a large Protestant majority.The majority of the Catholic population is situated around the Broughshane and Cushendall Road areas of the town.Recently there has now been tension in the Dunclug area of the town which now has a Catholic majority.These tensions have been associated with internment bonfires and the flying of republican flags though attempts have been made to reduce tensions.

Drugs have been a major problem in the town, earning the moniker "the drugs capital of the North". However major steps have been taken in recent times to eradicate this.

The Troubles

Ballymena throughout the course of The Troubles had a reasonably large paramilitary presence in the town, Mostly through the presence of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). See UDA South East Antrim Brigade for further information.

For more information see The Troubles in Ballymena, which includes a list of incidents which have resulted in fatalities in or near Ballymena.

Notable natives


Ballymena is classified as a Large Town by the Northern Ireland 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:
  • 72.2% were from a Protestant background, 24.2% were from a Roman Catholic background
  • 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
  • 3.9% of people aged 16–74 were unemployed.
  • 7.7% were born outside Northern Ireland

For more details see: Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service website.


There are a number of educational establishments in the town:




  • Slemishmarker mountain in Ballymena is where St Patrick enslaved as a youth, was brought to tend herds, and that during this time he found God

  • Ballymena is also the location of Northern Irelands only Regional Seat of Government Nuclear Bunker. Built in the late 80's it was ready for use by 1990. With room for nearly 350 Government officials it would have helped to keep the country operating after a Nuclear War. It was put into care & maintenance at the end of the Cold War and still remains one of Northern Irelands best kept secrets.

Town twinning

See also


  1. Ballymena Borough Council - History & Heritage
  2. Film Guardian website.
  3. Ian Paisley's website.
  4. The Guardian website.
  5. Flags and Tension lowered-Ballymena Times
  6. website, by the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland
  7. The Irish Examiner website.
  8. NI Statistics and Research Agency website.
  • Ensign Joseph Dyas [108047]
  • "Battle Over Ballymena's Heroes." (March 8 2000). Belfast News Letter, p. 1.
  • Judd, Terri. (March 9 2000). "Old hatreds Flare Over Neeson Freedom Award." The Independent (London), p. 7.
  • Watson-Smyth, Kate. (March 23 2000). "Row Over Religion Sours Ballymena's Award to Actor." The Independent (London), p. 12.
  • Ballymena on the Culture Northern Ireland website.
  • Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of County Antrim V111, Vol 23, 1831-5,1837-8. The Institute of Irish Studies, The Queens University Belfast. ISBN 0 85389 466 3

External links

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