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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.
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 Second World War, Ballymena was home to a large number
of Gibraltarian evacuees.
Like other towns in Northern Ireland, Ballymena was affected by
the Troubles. A total of eleven people were killed in or near the
town, most of them by 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 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 Gallaher, and the extremely successful local firm
In the 1950s Saint 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.
Ballymena is about Template:Convert/Km from Slemish Mountain the
legendary first known Irish home of Saint Patrick. The mountain
rises about 1500 feet (437 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.
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