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Ballymena town hall.jpg
Ballymena Town Hall, with the new Braid Arts Centre behind
Coat of Arms of Ballymena Borough Council historical.png
Coat of Arms of Ballymena Borough Council (until 2015)
United Kingdom Northern Ireland adm location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location within Northern Ireland
Population29,551 (2011 Census)
Irish grid reference D1003
  Belfast 28 miles (45 km) SE
Country Northern Ireland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district BT42–BT44
Dialling code 028
Police Northern Ireland
Fire Northern Ireland
Ambulance Northern Ireland
UK Parliament
NI Assembly
List of places
Northern Ireland
54°52′N6°17′W / 54.86°N 6.28°W / 54.86; -6.28 Coordinates: 54°52′N6°17′W / 54.86°N 6.28°W / 54.86; -6.28
Historical population
[4] [5] [6]

Ballymena /ˌbæliˈmnə/ [7] (from Irish : An Baile Meánach, meaning 'the middle townland', [8] Irish pronunciation:  [ən̪ˠ ˈbˠalʲə ˈmʲaːn̪ˠəx] ) is a town in County Antrim, and the eighth largest in Northern Ireland. It is part of the Borough of Mid and East Antrim. It had a population of 29,551 people at the 2011 Census. [4]


The town is built on land given to the Adair family by King Charles I in 1626, on the basis that the town holds two annual fairs and a free Saturday market in perpetuity. As of 2018, the Saturday market still runs. It is a popular shopping hub within Northern Ireland and is home to Ballymena United F.C.

Ballymena incorporates an area of 632 square kilometres (244 square miles ) and is home to large villages such as Cullybackey, Galgorm, Ahoghill and Broughshane.


Early history

The recorded history of the Ballymena area dates to the Early Christian period from the 5th to the 7th 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 souterrain sites within a 1 14 miles (2.0 km) radius of the centre of Ballymena.

Two miles (3.2 kilometres) north 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 St. Patrick's Church of Ireland, at the end of Castle Street.

At the end of the 5th 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, however, the Norse invaded the Ballymena area and burned the church.

In the 12th century, the Normans conquered much of County Antrim and County Down after having taken over England the century before. They 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.

In 1315, Edward Bruce (brother of King Robert I of Scotland, known as "Robert the Bruce") invaded Ireland. On 10 September 1315, at the Battle of Tawnybrack (five miles (8.0 kilometres) south of Ballymena at Kells), Edward conquered the army of Richard De Burgo, the Norman Earl of Ulster.


In 1576, Queen Elizabeth I of England 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, among the first pioneers in planting English and Scots settlers in Ireland. By 1581, Smith's settlement failed and the lands reverted to the crown.

On 10 May 1607, the Scottish king James VI also 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 at 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. He hired local Irish as workers on the estate; they served as tenant farmers for much of the next two centuries and more.

In 1641, the local Ballymena garrison were defeated by Irish rebels in the battle of Bundooragh. Ballymena's first market hall was built in 1684. [9]

In 1690, the Duke of Württemberg, 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.

The remains of the 1707 church. The tower was built in 1822 and is a listed building. Ballymena Church Street Tower of old Parish Church SE 2014 09 15.jpg
The remains of the 1707 church. The tower was built in 1822 and is a listed building.

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. [9]

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.

Twentieth century

Church Street, Ballymena, in the early 1900s Church Street, Ballymena, Co. Antrim (26482362184).jpg
Church Street, Ballymena, in the early 1900s

In 1900, Ballymena assumed urban district status. [9] 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. [11]

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 reoganisation in 2015, the Borough Council was merged with the Boroughs of Carrickfergus Borough Council and Larne Borough Council. [12] During the Second World War, Ballymena was home to a large number of evacuees from Gibraltar. They were housed with local families. [13]

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. [14] Ian Paisley was eventually made a freeman of Ballymena in December 2004 instead. [15]

Ballymena is described by some observers as being at the heart of Northern Ireland's equivalent of the Bible Belt. [16] 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". [17] 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. [18]

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. [19]

Recreational drugs have been a major problem in the town, earning it the moniker "the drugs capital of the North". [20] [21]

In 2011 it was revealed that Ballymena has the third-highest level of legal gun ownership in Northern Ireland. [22]


Ballymena, throughout the course of The Troubles, had a large paramilitary presence in the town. The UDA South East Antrim Brigade was stationed here.


Ballymena was traditionally a market town. The 1980s were a time of job losses in Ballymena as industry suffered and this has reoccurred in the 2010s.

Notable employers were Michelin in Broughshane, JTI Gallaher in Galgorm and Wrightbus.

November 2012, the Patton Group, a major builder entered administration with the loss of 320 jobs. [23]

October 2014 JTI Gallagher's would be closing with a loss of 877 jobs. [24]

November 2015 Michelin decided to close their Ballymena factory after 50 years, resulting in the loss of up to 850 jobs. [25]


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)16.212.614.612.813.612.214.513.914.816.715.815.8173.5
Source: [26]

Notable persons

Arts and Media


Academia and science






On Census day (27 March 2011) there were 29,551 people living in Ballymena, accounting for 1.63% of the NI total, [4] representing an increase of 2.9% on the 2001 Census population of 28,717. [5] Of these:


There are a number of educational establishments in the town:



Town Twinning

Sister City

See also

Related Research Articles

County Antrim County in Northern Ireland

County Antrim is one of six counties that form Northern Ireland. Adjoined to the north-east shore of Lough Neagh, the county covers an area of 3,046 square kilometres (1,176 sq mi) and has a population of about 618,000. County Antrim has a population density of 203 people per square kilometre or 526 people per square mile. It is also one of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland, as well as part of the historic province of Ulster.

Carrickfergus Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Carrickfergus is a large town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It sits on the north shore of Belfast Lough, 11 miles (18 km) from Belfast. The town had a population of 27,998 at the 2011 Census. It is County Antrim's oldest town and one of the oldest towns in Ireland as a whole. Carrickfergus was the administrative centre for Carrickfergus Borough Council, before this was amalgamated into the Mid and East Antrim District Council in 2015, and forms part of the Belfast Metropolitan Area. It is also a townland of 65 acres, a civil parish and a barony.

Ballycastle, County Antrim Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Ballycastle is a small seaside town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is on the north-easternmost coastal tip of Ireland, in the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The harbour hosts the ferry to Rathlin Island, which can be seen from the coast. The Ould Lammas Fair is held each year in Ballycastle on the last Monday and Tuesday of August. Ballycastle is the home of the Corrymeela Community.

Ballymena (borough) Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Ballymena is a former local government district with borough status in Northern Ireland. It was one of twenty-six districts created on 1 October 1973 and covered the town of Ballymena and the surrounding area which includes small towns including Broughshane, Cullybackey, Galgorm, Ahoghill and Portglenone. The borough had an area of 200 square miles (520 km2) and a population of 64,044 according to the 2011 census. The borough had a central location within Northern Ireland and was served by the M2 motorway and with a station on the Belfast-Derry/Londonderry railway line. Belfast International Airport itself was only 18 miles (29 km) away and the Belfast City Airport is 30 miles (48 km) from Ballymena. It was also accessible to the seaports of Larne and Belfast, 20 and 27 miles (43 km) away respectively. As of 2015 it has been replaced by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Larne Town (and civil parish) in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Larne is a town on the east coast of County Antrim, Northern Ireland, with a population of 18,755 at the 2011 Census. It is a major passenger and freight roll-on roll-off port. Larne is administered by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. Together with parts of the neighbouring districts of Antrim and Newtownabbey and Causeway Coast and Glens, it forms the East Antrim constituency for elections to the Westminster Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly. The civil parish is in the historic barony of Glenarm Upper.

Ahoghill village and civil parish

Ahoghill is a large village and civil parish in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, four miles from Ballymena. It is located in the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area. It had a population of 3,417 people at the 2011 Census.

Broughshane Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Broughshane is a village in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) northeast of Ballymena and 13.8 miles (22.2 km) north of Antrim, on the A42 road. It is part of Mid and East Antrim District Council and had a population of 2,851 people in the 2011 Census.

Newtownabbey Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Newtownabbey is a large settlement north of Belfast in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Sometimes considered to be a suburb of Belfast, it is separated from the rest of the city by Cavehill and Fortwilliam golf course. At the 2011 Census, Metropolitan Newtownabbey Settlement had a population of 65,646, making it the third largest settlement in Northern Ireland. It is part of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.


Cullybackey or Cullybacky is a village in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It lies 3 miles north-west of Ballymena, on the banks of the River Main, and is part of Mid and East Antrim district. It is a predominantly Protestant area. It had a population of 2,569 people in the 2011 Census.

Ballymena Academy Grammar school in Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Ballymena Academy is a mixed gender grammar school located in the market town of Ballymena in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It was founded in the early nineteenth century as a small provincial school for children in the town and surrounding agricultural hinterland.

Kells, County Antrim Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Kells is a village near Ballymena in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, that also encompasses the neighbouring village of Connor. As such it is also known as Kells and Connor in which they share a primary school, library, development association etc. It is in Mid and East Antrim District Council. Kells and Connor had a population of 2,053 people in the 2011 Census.

Ballymena railway station

Ballymena railway station serves the Ballymena area in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is located just outside Ballymena town centre on the Galgorm Road, and is integrated with the local bus station. It is situated on the Derry line between Antrim and Cullybackey. The station is operated by Northern Ireland Railways.

Cambridge House Grammar School is a mixed grammar school in the County Antrim town of Ballymena, Northern Ireland, within the North Eastern Region of the Education Authority.

Billy McCaughey

William McCaughey was a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary's Special Patrol Group and the illegal Ulster Volunteer Force's Glennane gang in the 1970s. He was imprisoned for 16 years for murder from 1980 to 1996. On his release he worked as a loyalist and Orange Order activist until his death in 2006.

Buckna Human settlement in Northern Ireland

Buckna is a small village four miles east of Broughshane in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is part of Mid and East Antrim District Council and is close to Slemish mountain.

Galgorm Parks

Galgorm Parks or 'Galgorm' is a townland in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, about 1 km west of Ballymena. It is part of the civil parish of Ahoghill. Administratively, it is in the Borough of Ballymena.

Robert Adair, 1st Baron Waveney Irish-born British politician

Robert Alexander Shafto Adair, 1st Baron Waveney was a British Liberal Party politician who served as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Cambridge for 8 of the years from 1847 to 1857.

Antrim Lower Place in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Antrim Lower is a barony in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is bordered by six other baronies: Antrim Upper to the south; Toome Upper to the south-west; Toome Lower to the west; Kilconway to the north-west; Glenarm Lower to the north-east; and Glenarm Upper to the east. The River Braid flows through this barony.


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Other sources