Wednesday 24 January 2018

Top billing for Liam as freeman of Ballymena

Chris Kilpatrick

HOLLYWOOD star Liam Neeson has returned to the stage where it all began as he was granted the freedom of his hometown.

The hero of blockbusters including 'Schindler's List' and 'Michael Collins' was back in Ballymena, Co Antrim, to receive the borough's highest honour.

Despite poor weather, hundreds of fans gathered from early morning to greet the Oscar-nominated actor who said he was still "99.9pc Ballymena".

Neeson ensured family formed an integral part of the ceremony at the Braid Arts Centre, and was joined by his mother, Kitty – who still lives in Ballymena – and sisters Bernadette and Elizabeth.

The decision to grant Neeson the freedom of Ballymena was agreed unanimously by the council last November, 12 years after a previous attempt to award him the honour.

Back then he turned it down after DUP councillors objected to the proposal because of alleged derogatory remarks attributed to Neeson about his experiences growing up in the County Antrim town.

He was quoted as saying that he felt "second class" as a Catholic growing up in the mainly Protestant town and felt he had to stay indoors during the loyalist July 12 commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne.

Yesterday he admitted to regretting that decision to turn it down.

"They were different times, and luckily we have moved on," he said.

And he praised his hometown and Northern Ireland for "coming out of the darkness".

Irish Independent

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