The passing of Mr Ian Paisley comes almost ten years since he was made a freeman of Ballymena and the man who was Mayor at that special ceremony has spoken of his pride at being involved.
The Freedom of the Borough of Ballymena was conferred upon Dr. Paisley, on Friday, December 2004 “for his contribution to the welfare of the citizens of Ballymena and of Northern Ireland as a whole”.
Mr Paisley was actually born in Armagh in 1926, but he moved to Ballymena at the age of two when his preacher father took over as pastor of a Baptist church in the town.
Ballymena’s then Mayor Hubert Nicholl paid tribute to Mr Paisley’s massive contribution to the town’s welfare.
Speaking on the night of the conferment, Cllr. Nicholl said: “Ian Paisley’s is a household name throughout Northern Ireland and much further afield.
“Since he first arrived in our town in 1928, Dr Paisley has always been proud of his local roots. It is therefore fitting that this Council has decided to express its appreciation to this remarkable advocate of ‘the welfare of the citizens of Ballymena and of Northern Ireland as a whole’.
“It has been my personal joy to be associated with Dr Paisley for many years and it is therefore indeed a special privilege as Mayor to preside over this historic occasion”.
Now 10 years later, Councillor Hubert Nicholl still speaks fondly of that evening, looking back, he told the Times that he was in no doubt that it was an excellent decision by the council to give Lord Bannside this high accolade.
He said: “What I really remember from that night is his happiness at receiving the freedom, it was a great occasion and a great occasion for me.
“I’m really glad to have done that, before that evening he had been really ill. The Chief Executive and I thought he wouldn’t be able to come but he improved so much that he was able to make it.
“It was big moment of pride for me, I was a member of the party for the last thirty years and it meant a lot for me to bestow this honour.”
After the official glittering civic ceremony at Galgorm Manor, Ballymena, the 200 invited guests took part in a ‘Civic Banquet’ in honour of Dr Paisley.
Many letters of congratulations were read to the assembly including from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Dr Paisley then addressed the company on the seven guiding lights of his life.
The SDLP boycotted the event, with councillor Declan O’Loan accusing Mr Paisley of “divisive politics”.
However Councillor Nicholl said his memories of that night was a very warm and friendly affair, he added: “It was just such a happy night, his whole family was there and there was a warm atmosphere that evening.
“It started out formal with the ceremony and speeches but it was very light hearted and that was just typical of Ian Paisley He had a word with everybody there.”
That evening, Mr Paisley spoke of his pride at being conferred with the Freedom of the borough, “I am greatly humbled in receiving the highest gift of the domain of Ballymena Council,” he said.
“Whilst not born in Ballymena I was bred in Ballymena and always look upon here as my hometown.
“My parents’ remains rest in the town’s cemetery and my roots and the development of my life have been centred here.
“To receive this reward from the borough has therefore a special meaning to me.”
Councillor Nicholl said he has been inundated with requests from people offering condolences and this is due to Lord Bannside’s long and hardworking time as an MP for North Antrim.
He said: “The number of people that have contacted me this weekend to find his address to send cards shows how much he was respected.
“I have no doubt that he is one of the best MPs that North Antrim has had or it ever will have, he was a man of the people.
“No matter what your problem, however big or small he was there to talk to you, he had time for everyone.
“Having read some of the comments even his enemies were saying you couldn’t help but like him.”