ALL eyes will be on Ballymena on Monday as one of Northern Ireland’s biggest stars returns home to receive the highest honour ever granted by the town council to one of its citizens.
Actor Liam Neeson (pictured), together with family and friends, councillors, the press and members of the public will attend a special day-long affair at The Braid Art Centre and town hall during which the actor will be awarded the honorary freedom of the borough status.
The conferring of the title, which has been awarded to just three people previously – Dr Ian Paisley, rugby legend Syd Millar and former mayor of Ballymena Sandy Spence – will see Neeson, 60, sign The Book of Burgesses during a special ceremony after which he will be joined by around 200 guests at a dinner.
Local musicians will provide entertainment at the event while Ballymena students will offer their own cinematic tribute to Liam’s life and work. Local food producers will also be on hand to provide an authentic Co Antrim flavour to the proceedings.
Speaking about the ceremony, Mayor Alderman PJ McAvoy said: “This is a significant civic occasion but we have been at pains to keep the formalities to a minimum, in keeping with Liam’s relaxed style and recognising that this is, above all, a gathering of friends.”
In previous years Freemen of the Borough earned unique benefits including the privilege of herding sheep through the town centre, a reward that the town’s Mayor says Liam will not experience today.
“He will certainly gain an insight into the esteem in which he is held in Ballymena,” said the mayor.
Road closures and disruption to traffic are expected from as early as 7.30am in and around Ballymena in preparation for the Schindler’s List star’s arrival at approximately 1.30pm when he will be met by Alderman McAvoy.
After greeting the public and holding a special press conference it is anticipated that Mr Neeson, who has more than 90 acting roles under his belt, will be presented with the accolade, a scroll and the Book of Burgesses in the town hall chamber.