|Scots: Bellamaina, Bellamena
or Seiven Tours
|Irish: an Baile Meánach|
Ballymena town hall
Coat of arms
Ballymena shown within Northern Ireland
|Irish grid reference|
|– Belfast||28 miles (45 km) SE|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||Northern Ireland|
|UK Parliament||North Antrim|
|NI Assembly||North Antrim|
Ballymena // (from Irish: an Baile Meánach, meaning "the middle townland") is a large town in County Antrim, and the eighth largest in Northern Ireland, and the seat of Ballymena Borough Council. Ballymena had an estimated population of 29,782 people in 2008.
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. As of 2012, the Saturday market still runs.
Ballymena is the hometown of famous actor Liam Neeson,who was awarded "Freedom of the Town" in 2013. Ballymena also has a reputation as a popular shopping hub within Northern Ireland and is home to Ballymena United F.C.
Ballymena incorporates an area of 632 km² and is home to large villages such as Galgorm, Ahoghill and Broughshane.
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, and was refurbished in 2007 at a cost of roughly £20 million.
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 1 1⁄4 miles (2.0 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, five 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. The Harryville (Ulster-Scots: Herrieville) area's motte-and-bailey is one of the best examples of this type of fortification in Northern Ireland. Some sources[who?], 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 10 September 1315, at the Battle of Tawnybrack (five 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 10 May 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.
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 7 to 9 June 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 (late Baron Waveney) started building Ballymena Castle, a magnificent family residence, in the Demesne. The castle was not completed until 1887.
In 1870 The People's Park, Ballymena was established, now a mature and beautiful setting, which continues to be a very popular park today.
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 24 July 1924, and it was officially opened on 20 November 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 23 May 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 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 JTI, and the extremely successful local firm Wrightbus.
In the 1950s St Patrick's Barracks in Ballymena was the Regimental Training Depot of the Royal Ulster Rifles (83rd & 86th). Many young men who had been conscripted on the United Kingdom mainland, along with others who had volunteered for service in the British Army, embarked upon their period of basic training in the Regimental Depot, prior to being posted to the regular regimental battalions. Many of these young men were to serve in Korea, Cyprus and with the British Army of the Rhine. In 1968 due to a series of government austerity measures the remaining three Irish regiments, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (27th) Royal Ulster Rifles (83rd & 86th) and the Royal Irish Fusiliers (89th) merged to become the Royal Irish Rangers.
Early in the 1990s the Royal Irish Regiment, whose Regimental Headquarters is at St Patrick's Barracks, was 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 Ireland's equivalent of the Bible Belt. The Electric Light Orchestra were banned from playing in the township of Ballymena with Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) dominated council reasoning that their appearance would attract "the four Ds Drink, Drugs, Devil and Debauchery". Further the popular romantic drama Brokeback Mountain was banned from being shown in the town, as was a performance an impersonator of comic Roy 'Chubby' Brown,. It should be noted 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.
Since the DUP's protests against "the four Ds Drink, Drugs, Devil and Debauchery", 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.
In 2011 it was revealed that Ballymena has the third highest level of legal gun ownership in Northern Ireland.
Ballymena is about 10 km (6 mi) from Slemish Mountain the legendary first known Irish home of Saint Patrick. The mountain rises about 1,500 feet (460 metres) above the surrounding plain, and it is actually the central core of an extinct volcano. According to legend, following his capture and being brought as a slave to Ireland, Patrick worked as a shepherd at Slemish Mountain for about six years, from ages 16 through 22, for a man named Milchu (or Miluic).
It was during this time that Patrick turned to frequent prayer as his only consolation in his loneliness. In a vision he was encouraged to escape and return home. He did, became a priest and returned to Ireland, allegedly to convert his old master. The legend goes that his own real conversion took place while on Slemish out in all weathers, communing with nature and praying continuously. As Patrick was not the first Christian Bishop to visit Ireland, his ministry was confined to the North. Here he established churches and an episcopal system. One such church is thought to have been founded at the nearby site of Skerry Churchyard.
Slemish Mountain is open year-round, and on Saint Patrick's Day (17 March) large crowds hike to the top of the mountain as a pilgrimage. The one and a half kilometre round walk to the summit and back takes approximately one hour in good weather. Excellent views can be had of the Antrim and Scottish coasts to the east. Ballymena town, Lough Neagh and the Sperrin Mountains are all normally visible to the west whilst the Bann Valley and the higher summits of the Antrim Hills can be seen to the North. The 180-metre climb is steep and rocky. The path can become very slippery in wet weather so care should be taken.
- Professor Darwin Caldwell, robotics expert and leader of iCub project
- Alexander Campbell was from the town. Campbell was a leader in the Restoration Movement.
- David Cardwell, Senior Guide and Director of the Guide for Social justice.
- Sir Roger Casement, campaigner for the Congolese people and Irish revolutionary was educated in the town and his father buried there.
- Ian Cochrane, novelist.
- Sir Samuel Curran, physicist, inventor of the Scintillation Counter, and founder of Strathclyde University was born in Ballymena.
- Steven Davis, Southampton F.C. and Northern Ireland International midfielder was born in Ballymena, though raised in Cullybackey.
- Joseph Dyas, led the Forlorn Hope at the Storming of Badajoz on two occasions in 1811 whilst serving with 51st ( 2nd Yorkshire, West Riding) Light Infantry. He was buried in Ballymena in 1850.
- 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.
- Jackie Fullerton, BBC Sports broadcaster.
- Jamie Hamilton, motorcycle racer.
- Joanne Hogg, a vocalist, was born in Ballymena.
- David Humphreys, Ulster and Ireland fly half is from this town.
- Ian Humphreys, Ulster and Ireland fly half and brother of David.
- Ellen Kelly (née Quinn), mother of Ned Kelly, was born in Ballymena in 1832.
- David Kennedy, Ireland international cricketer and top order batsman for Ballymena CC.
- Matt McCullough, Ulster and Ireland rugby lock.
- James McHenry, signatory of the United States Constitution, was also from Ballymena.
- Tom McKinney, Jed-Forest rugby union; Salford, Warrington, St Helens, Great Britain rugby league footballer.
- George Millar, singer, founding member of musical group The Irish Rovers, born and raised in 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.
- Colin Murdock, Accrington Stanley F.C. and former Northern Ireland International.
- Liam Neeson, the Oscar-nominated actor, was born and raised in Ballymena and was awarded the Freedom of Ballymena on 28 January 2013.
- James Nesbitt, actor, born 15 January 1965 in Ballymena.
- Ian Paisley, the Free Presbyterian Church minister and politician, was born in Armagh but raised in Ballymena.
- Mary Peters, Northern Irish Olympian, was raised in Ballymena.
- Joe Rea professional boxer, participant in Prizefighter.
- Brian Eddie Reynolds lead singer, Creation's Tears
- Clodagh Rodgers, pop singer
- Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool F.C. manager
- Richard Seymour, Marxist writer, activist and owner of the blog Lenin's Tomb.
- Nigel Worthington, the former Northern Ireland, Ballymena United and Sheffield Wednesday left back. As well as being the former International team manager.
- Alexander Wright, a Victoria Cross recipient during the Crimean War, was born in the town.
- Bryan Young, Ulster and Ireland international rugby player.
Ballymena is classified as a Large Town by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) (i.e. 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:
- Ballymena Academy
- Cambridge House Grammar School
- St Louis Grammar School, Ballymena
- Slemish College
- Dunclug College
- Ballee High School
- St Patrick's College
- Cullybackey High School
- Northern Regional College
- Ballymena railway station opened on 4 December 1855. A station was opened at Harryville on 24 August 1878, but closed on 3 June 1940.
- The Ballymena, Cushendall and Red Bay Railway operated narrow gauge railway services from Ballymena to Parkmore from 1875 to 1940.
- The Ballymena and Larne Railway was another narrow gauge railway. The line opened in 1878, but closed to passengers in 1933 and to goods traffic in 1940. Between 1878 and 1880 the line terminated at Harryville, but was then extended to the town's main railway station.
- Ballymena RFC
- Ballymena United F.C.
- Wakehurst F.C.
- Ballymena and Antrim Athletic Club
- Carniny Amateur & Youth F.C.
- All Saints GAC
- Ballymena Lawn Tennis Club
- Ballymena Road Club
- Braid Angling Club
- Ballymena Cricket Club
- Ballymena Bowling Club 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ballymena.|
- NMSC annual report 2002 – Ulster-Scots
- Carrick Castle – Ulster-Scots NI Dept of the Environment.
- The Online Scots Dictionary Retrieved 24 August 2012.
- http://www.nisranew.nisra.gov.uk/census and www.histpop.org for post 1821 figures, 1813 estimate from Mason’s Statistical Survey For a discussion on the accuracy of pre-famine census returns see JJ Lee “On the accuracy of the pre-famine Irish censuses Irish Population, Economy and Society edited by JM Goldstrom and LA Clarkson (1981) p54, in and also New Developments in Irish Population History, 1700-1850 by Joel Mokyr and Cormac Ó Gráda in The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Nov, 1984), pp. 473-488.
- * Wells, John C. (2008), Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.), Longman, p. 66, ISBN 9781405881180
- Placenames Database of Ireland
- Ballymena Borough Council - History & Heritage
- Film Guardian website.
- Ian Paisley's website.
- The Guardian website.
- "Where drugs cross the religious divide". Irish Independent. 20 February 2000.
- Flags and Tension lowered-Ballymena Times
- drugsalcohol.info website, by the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland
- The Irish Examiner website.
- 7929 legal guns in Ballymena
- Heaney, Marie (1994). Over nine waves a book of Irish legends. London: Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-17518-5.
- Zara Wilson, Jacqueline. "Kelly, Ellen". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
- NI Statistics and Research Agency website.
- "Ballymena". Railscot - Irish Railways. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 27 August 2007.
- Baker, Michael HC (1999). Irish Narrow Gauge Railways. A View from the Past. Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 0-7110-2680-7.
- "Ballymena Bowls". Bryansbowls.me.uk. 9 April 2000. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Ensign Joseph Dyas 
- "Battle Over Ballymena's Heroes." (8 March 2000). Belfast News Letter, p. 1.
- Judd, Terri. (9 March 2000). "Old hatreds Flare Over Neeson Freedom Award." The Independent (London), p. 7.
- Watson-Smyth, Kate. (23 March 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
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Ballymena.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Ballymena.|
- Ballymena Borough Council
- Ballymena Directory for 1910
- BBC crime figures for Ballymena
- Photos of Churches and other buildings in and around Ballymena
- Ballymena Road Club