Ballymena Town Hall, with the new Braid Arts Centre behind
|Population||29,551 (2011 Census)|
|Irish grid reference||D1003|
|• Belfast||28 miles (45 km) SE|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Dialling code||028 25|
Ballymena (/ˌbæliˈmiːnə/ BAL-ee-MEE-nə; from Irish: an Baile Meánach [ənˠ ˌbˠalʲə ˈmʲaːn̪ˠəx], meaning 'the middle townland') is a town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It had a population of 29,551 people at the 2011 Census, making it the eighth largest town in Northern Ireland by population. It is part of the Borough of Mid and East Antrim.
The town was built on the Braid River, on land given to the Adair family by King Charles I in 1626, with a right to hold two annual fairs and a Saturday market in perpetuity. Surrounding villages are Cullybackey, Ahoghill, Broughshane, and Kells-Connor.
The recorded history of the Ballymena area dates to the Early Christian period, from the fifth to the seventh centuries. Ringforts are 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 souterrains within a 1+1⁄4 miles (2.0 km) radius of the centre of Ballymena. Two miles (3.2 kilometres) north in the townland of Kirkinriola, the medieval parish church and graveyard show signs 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 seventh century. This stone is now in the porch of St Patrick's Church of Ireland, at the end of Castle Street. At the end of the fifth century, a church was founded in Connor, five miles (8.0 kilometres) south of Ballymena. This was followed by a monastery at Templemoyle, Kells. In 831, Vikings invaded the area and burned the church.
In the late 12th century, the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland and conquered much of what is now eastern Ulster, creating the Earldom of Ulster. They built a motte-and-bailey fort in what is now the Harryville area of Ballymena. It is one of the best-surviving examples of this type of fortification in Northern Ireland.
In 1315, Edward Bruce (brother of Scottish king Robert the Bruce) invaded the Earldom of Ulster, opening up another front in the war against the English. On 10 September 1315, at the Battle of Connor, near Ballymena, Edward's army defeated the army of Richard de Burgh, the Anglo-Norman Earl of Ulster.
On 10 May 1607, during the Plantation of Ulster, King James I of England 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 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 on 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 every Saturday. He hired local Irish as workers on the estate; they served as tenant farmers for much of the next two centuries and more. Galgorm nearby was granted to Sir Faithful Fortescue. In 1618 he built the Castle, which still exists.
During the Irish Rebellion of 1641, the local Ballymena garrison were defeated by Irish rebels in the battle of Bundooragh.
Ballymena's first market hall was built in 1684.
In 1690, during the Williamite-Jacobite War, Williamite general the Duke of Württemberg 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 7 to 9 June by a force of around 10,000 United Irishmen. They stormed the market 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 was established.
In 1900, Ballymena assumed urban district status. Under the provisions of the Land Purchase (Ireland) Act 1903, the Adairs disposed of most of their Ballymena estate to the occupying tenants in 1904. The old market hall building, which also contained the post office and estate office, burned down in 1919. The new Ballymena Town Hall was officially opened by the Duke of Abercorn 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 Ballymena Borough Council. Following local government reorganisation in 2015, the Borough Council was merged with the Boroughs of Carrickfergus Borough Council and Larne Borough Council.
During the Second World War, Ballymena was home to a large number of evacuees from Gibraltar. They were housed with local families.
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 was at St Patrick's Barracks, was granted the Freedom of the Borough.
Like other towns in Northern Ireland, Ballymena was affected by the Troubles, a lengthy period of religious and partisan tensions and armed confrontations from the 1960s until 1998. A total of eleven people were killed in or near the town by the IRA and 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 and industrial restructuring; many of its former factories closed. Since the 2010s Ballymena has seen a decline in its retail and manufacturing sectors. Both Michelin and JTI have left the area. Local firm Wrightbus is also struggling, citing a downturn in orders. It is hoped that the creation of a manufacturing hub at the former Michelin site will attract businesses to the area.
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. 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. It has a large Protestant majority. In the early 1990s the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)-dominated town council banned a performance by the ELO Part II in the township, saying they would attract "the four Ds Drink, Drugs, Devil and Debauchery". The Council banned the screening of Brokeback Mountain (2005), starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, as it featured a homosexual relationship. An impersonator of comic Roy 'Chubby' Brown was also banned.
The majority of the town's Catholic population is situated around the Broughshane and Cushendall Road areas. Recently there has 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; the town has tried to reduce tensions.
Recreational drugs have been a major problem in the town, earning it the moniker "the drugs capital of the North".
In 2011 it was revealed that Ballymena has the third-highest level of legal gun ownership in Northern Ireland.
Ballymena competed for city status as part of the Platinum Jubilee Civic Honours. However, the bid was unsuccessful.
Ballymena was traditionally a market town. The 1980s were a time of job losses in Ballymena as industry suffered and this reoccurred in the 2010s.
Notable employers were Michelin in Broughshane, JTI Gallaher in Galgorm, and Wrightbus.
In November 2012, the Patton Group, a major builder entered administration with the loss of 320 jobs.
In October 2014, it was announced that JTI Gallagher's would be closing with a loss of 877 jobs.
In November 2015, Michelin decided to close their Ballymena factory after 50 years, resulting in the loss of up to 850 jobs.
On census day 2011 (27 March) there were 29,551 people living in Ballymena, accounting for 1.63% of the NI total, representing an increase of 2.9% on the 2001 Census population of 28,717. Of these:
There are a number of educational establishments in the town:
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.
Association football clubs in the area include Ballymena United F.C., Southside Rangers F.C. and Wakehurst F.C.
Ballymena RFC is a local rugby union club.
All Saints GAC is the only Gaelic Athletic Association club in the town.
Other Ballymena sports clubs include Ballymena Cricket Club, Ballymena Lawn Tennis Club and Ballymena Bowling Club.
Townlands are traditional land divisions used in Ireland. Ballymena covers all or part of the following townlands:
|Climate data for Portglenone (64m elevation) 1981–2010|
|Average high °C (°F)||6.9
|Average low °C (°F)||1.7
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||91.4
|Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm)||16.2||12.6||14.6||12.8||13.6||12.2||14.5||13.9||14.8||16.7||15.8||15.8||173.5|