Ballymena (/ˌbæliˈmnə/ BAL-ee-MEE-nə;[7] from Irish: an Baile Meánach [ənˠ ˌbˠalʲə ˈmʲaːn̪ˠəx], meaning 'the middle townland'[8]) is a town in County Antrim, and the eighth largest in Northern Ireland. It is part of the Borough of Mid and East Antrim.

  • Scots: Bellamaina,[1] Bellamena[2]
    or Seiven Tours[3]
  • Irish: an Baile Meánach
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)
Ballymena is located in Northern Ireland
Location within Northern Ireland
Population29,551 (2011 Census)
Irish grid referenceD1003
• Belfast28 miles (45 km) SE
CountryNorthern Ireland
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtBT42–BT44
Dialling code028
PoliceNorthern Ireland
FireNorthern Ireland
AmbulanceNorthern Ireland
UK Parliament
NI Assembly
List of places
Northern Ireland
54°52′N 6°17′W / 54.86°N 6.28°W / 54.86; -6.28Coordinates: 54°52′N 6°17′W / 54.86°N 6.28°W / 54.86; -6.28
Historical population

The town is built on land given to the Adair family by King Charles I in 1626, with a right to hold two annual fairs and a free Saturday market in perpetuity. As of 2018, the Saturday market still runs. Ballymena 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 includes large villages such as Cullybackey, Galgorm, Ahoghill and Broughshane. It had a population of 29,551 people at the 2011 Census.[4]


Early historyEdit

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.[10]

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 centuryEdit

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 reorganisation 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 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.[23]

In October 2014, it was announced that JTI Gallagher's would be closing with a loss of 877 jobs.[24]

In 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
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
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


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:

  • 19.20% were aged under 16 years and 17.61% were aged 65 and over;
  • 52.00% of the usually resident population were female 48.00% were male;
  • 65.76% belong to or were brought up 'Protestant and other (non Catholic Christian) (including Christian related)'and 26.71% belong to or were brought up Catholic Christian ;
  • 65.51% indicated that they had a British national identity, 27.66% had a Northern Irish national identity and 11.25% had an Irish national identity (respondents could indicate more than one national identity);
  • 39 years was the average (median) age of the population.
  • 17.67% had some knowledge of Ulster-Scots and 5.66% had some knowledge of Irish (Gaelic).


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.[28]

The Ballymena, Cushendall and Red Bay Railway operated narrow gauge railway services from Ballymena to Parkmore from 1875 to 1940.[29]

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.

Notable personsEdit

Arts and MediaEdit


Academia and scienceEdit






Town TwinningEdit

Sister CityEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "North-South Ministerial Council Annual Report" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 August 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  2. ^ "Carrickfergus Castle" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  3. ^ "The Online Scots Dictionary – Read the Scots Dictionary". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b c "Census 2011 Population Statistics for Ballymena Settlement". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Census 2001 Usually Resident Population: KS01 (Settlements) - Table view". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). p. 1. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Wells, John C. (2008), Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.), Longman, p. 66, ISBN 9781405881180
  8. ^ "An Baile Meánach/Ballymena". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  9. ^ a b c "Ballymena: A brief history of the town". Archived from the original on 13 July 2007. Retrieved 15 July 2007.
  10. ^ "Old Parish Church Tower Old Church Yard Entry Church Street Ballymena Co. Antrim". DOENI. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  11. ^ "County Andrim, Ballymena, Town Hall". Dictionary of Irish Architects. Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  12. ^ "Local government reform". 27 October 2015. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  13. ^ "Ballymena finds its twin in Gibraltar". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 13 June 2007.
  14. ^ Xan Brooks (11 February 2005). "'Did you ever do the dead man's shuffle?'". The Guardian.
  15. ^ "EIPS – Dr Paisley Given The Freedom Of Ballymena". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  16. ^ Rosie Cowan (17 February 2001). "Drugs secret lurks in Ulster's Bible belt". The Guardian.
  17. ^ "Where drugs cross the religious divide". Irish Independent. 20 February 2000.
  18. ^ "Chubby Live". Retrieved 13 November 2010.[dead link]
  19. ^ "News". Ballymena Times. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  20. ^ "Heroin use in Northern Ireland". Archived from the original on 6 May 2006. Retrieved 13 March 2006.
  21. ^ "Loyalists cash in on heroin glut". Archived from the original on 15 May 2005. Retrieved 13 March 2006.
  22. ^ "7,929 legal guns in Ballymena". Ballymena Times. 26 July 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  23. ^ "Ballymena firm Patton goes into administration". BBC News. 6 November 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  24. ^ Julian O'Neill (8 October 2014). "JTI Gallaher: Ballymena factory staff given time off to absorb closure news". BBC News. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  25. ^ Julian O'Neill (3 November 2015). "Michelin Ballymena tyre factory to close in 2018". BBC News. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  26. ^ "Climate Normals 1981–2010". Met Office. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  27. ^ BBC News NI – Ballee High School closure confirmed by John O'Dowd
  28. ^ "Ballymena" (PDF). Railscot – Irish Railways. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 27 August 2007.
  29. ^ Baker, Michael HC (1999). Irish Narrow Gauge Railways. A View from the Past. Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 0-7110-2680-7.
  30. ^ "Ballymena Bowls". 9 April 2000. Archived from the original on 26 February 2012. Retrieved 25 March 2013.

Other sourcesEdit

  • "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

External linksEdit