The Town of Ballymena, County Antrim

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The town of Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland has a current population of around 29,000 people. It is also the headquarters of the Ballymena Borough Council. Its name in the Irish means “middle townland.” It was built on land given to a family of some note back in 1626, by the English King Charles I. The proviso was that Ballymena would have to hold two annual fairs and a weekly market forever. It still holds the market.

Ballymena can trace its history back to the 5th through 7th centuries, which are known as the Early Christian period in Ireland. Norman dominance finally reached the area in the 12th century, with the occupation of County Antrim by those forces. The area throughout much of its history seems to have been caught between different forces, including an occupation by the Scots armies of Edward Bruce. He was the brother of Scottish King Robert I, more popularly known as Robert the Bruce.

The town’s history continued much along these same lines for the next few centuries, with various grants, charters and changes in status between Irish Catholicism and English Protestantism, like much of Northern Ireland itself. The first “modern” Catholic church in the town was dedicated in 1827. It also benefitted from the opening of the railway in 1848.

Ballymena is also the town where the famous actor Liam Neeson was born and raised. Like other towns in Northern Ireland, it has seen its share of strife during the Irish Republican Army’s fight against what it felt was the occupying forces of the Royal Army and its domination by England.

County Antrim, in which the town of Ballymena resides, is one of six counties that make up Northern Ireland and one of nine counties that make up the province of Ulster. It has a current population of around 617,000 people. Both the town and the county are good examples of what English life is like in a Northern Ireland region.