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County Antrim
Ballymena town hall.jpg
Ballymena Town Hall
Grid reference: D1003
Location: 54°51’36"N, 6°16’48"W
Population: 28,717  (2001)
Post town: Ballymena
Postcode: BT42
Dialling code: 028
Local Government
Council: Mid & East Antrim
North Antrim

Ballymena is a town in County Antrim. It was built on land given to the Adair family by King Charles I in 1626, who granted the town the right to hold two annual fairs and a free Saturday market in perpetuity. The Saturday market continues to this day.

Ballymena has in recent years become a centre of IT-based, international corporations and major retail outlets. It retains too a successful manufacturing industry.

The town used to host Ireland’s largest one-day agricultural show at the Ballymena Showgrounds. There are still many historic buildings in the town. The Town Hall was built in 1924 on the site of the old Market House, and was refurbished in 2007 at a cost of approx £20 million.


Early history

The area's early history is seen in remains found around Ballymena. A number of souterrain sites are found within a 1¼ mile radius of the town centre. Ringforts typical of the 5th to 7th centuries are found in the townland of Ballykeel and a site known as Camphill Fort in the townland of Ballee.

Two miles north of Ballymena 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, referring apparently to the 7th century Bishop Degen. The stone is now in the porch of the Parish Church of St Patrick, Kilconriola, in Castle Street, Ballymena.

From the 12th century, Norman mottes appear, as at Harryville's motte-and-bailey, one of the best examples of this type of fortification in Northern Ireland, though some have credited the Uí Fhloinn with building the mid-Antrim mottes and baileys in imitation of the Norman incomers.

Settlement and establishment

In 1576, Queen Elizabeth I granted land, including the town of Ballymena, to Sir Thomas Smith, who brought English settlers to the area. By 1581, Smith's settlement failed and the lands reverted to the crown.

On 10 May 1607, King James I granted Ruairí Óg MacQuillan the Ballymena Estate. In time the estate passed into the possession of William Adair, a Scottish laird from Kinhilt and was temporarily renamed "Kinhilstown" after the Adair's lands in Scotland. In 1626 King 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.

Ballymena's first market house (on the site of the present town hall) was built in 1684.

By 1704, the population of Ballymena had reached 800. In 1707, the first Protestant, Church of Ireland parish church was built. In 1740, Adair's original Ballymena Castle burned down. In 1765 a new Moravian settlement, Gracehill, was founded. During the 1798 rebellion, the United Irishmen occupied Ballymena for three days, from 7 June to 9 June, storming the Market House and killing three of its defenders.

The first modern Roman Catholic Church in Ballymena was consecrated in 1827. By 1834 the population of Ballymena had increased to about 4,000, a population boosted later with the opening in 1848 of the Belfast and Ballymena Railway. A new Ballymena Castle was begun in 1865 by Robert Alexander Shafto Adair as a grand stately home, which he completed in 1887.

Twentieth century

The Adairs disposed of most of their Ballymena estate to the occupying tenants in 1904, under the provisions of the Irish Land Act 1903. The town hall building burned down in 1919. The Duke of York (later King George VI) laid the cornerstone to the new town hall on 24 July 1924, which was opened on 20 November 1928. Ballymena Castle was demolished in the 1950s.

The later half of the 20th century saw Ballymena's economic strength decline, many of its factories closing, the Ballymena bypass once so keenly awaited, left it a backwater. Only in recent years has the town picked up again with new industries.


  • Slemish mountain in Ballymena is where St Patrick enslaved as a youth, was brought to tend herds, and that during this time he found God.
  • Ballymena is also the location of Northern Ireland's only Regional Seat of Government Nuclear Bunker, built in the late 80's with room for nearly 350 Government officials, it would have helped to keep the country operating after a nuclear war. It was put into care and maintenance at the end of the Cold War.


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