BALLYMENA can already claim a link to a galaxy roving, light sabre wielding Jedi hero ... now we can add a world famous Wizard and a hobbit to the mix!
With Holywood star Liam Neeson having received the Freedom of the Borough last week, it’s been revealed that Sir Ian McKellen, who plays ‘Gandalf the Grey’ in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ franchise can claim Ballymena roots.
And if that wasn’t good enough, Ballymena born James Nesbitt seals the deal with his role as a Hobbit in the latest sword and sorcery blockbuster.
The film and theatre legend Sir Ian McKellen has compared his great-great grandfather to none other than another ‘freeman’, Ian Paisley.
The multi award-winning star of blockbusters such as Lord Of The Rings and X-Men revealed his family tree can be traced back to Ballymena, Co Antrim.
Sir Ian, who delivered the Chancellor’s Lecture at the University of Ulster where he was conferred an honorary degree, said his Northern Irish roots shaped much of his childhood.
“In puritanical Ballymena, it is said the park keepers used to tie up the children’s swings on Sundays to keep the Lord’s Day holy,” Sir Ian said. “In the same spirit, at our home when I was a kid, we weren’t allowed to play cards, nor board games on Sundays. No snap, Ludo or even jigsaws. Nor was I ever allowed to have a Wall’s ice-cream, before or after Sunday school.”
Sir Ian paid tribute to the north Antrim town, which he said had nurtured the “greatly passionate” Northern Irish performers Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt and former Stormont first minister Dr Paisley.
“My great-great grandfather James McKellen who, like his townsman Dr Paisley, was a strict, evangelical Protestant minister in Ballymena,” Sir Ian said.
Movie star Liam was honoured in Ballymena last week when he was granted Freedom of the Borough.
James Nesbitt, who starred alongside Sir Ian in The Hobbit, serves as the Chancellor of the University of Ulster. He was appointed in 2010, almost 30 years after securing a place at the university as a student. James said he was delighted his co-star, who is also a revered thespian, had agreed to deliver the Chancellor’s Lecture.
Sir Ian, 73, who is openly gay, took the opportunity to discuss gay rights and growing up as a young homosexual in post-war Lancashire, England. He received a knighthood from the Queen in 1991 for his contributions to theatre. He said he viewed the honour as significant in the light of his sexuality. “A tiny suggestion that the political establishment was giving in to the idea that gay men could, despite the laws that disadvantaged us, be honourable and responsible citizens,” he said.
Sir Ian delivered his lecture to an audience at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus in Londonderry. It was the first event of its kind the university has held outside of Belfast. A spokesman said the university thought it suitable the event took place in the 2013 City of Culture.