Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Neeson accepts freedom of Ballymena

Liam Neeson has been given the freedom of his home town

Liam Neeson has arrived back in Ballymena to a jubilant welcome as he accepted the freedom of his home town.

The Hollywood star waded through a scrum of well-wishers as he arrived at the reception.

"It is great to be back," he said.

The star of Schindler's List and Michael Collins began his career in Belfast's Lyric Theatre and later joined the Abbey Theatre in Dublin before moving to London, then Hollywood.

He was spotted by film director John Boorman while at the Abbey, subsequently appearing in Boorman's film Excalibur in 1981.

He was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of a German businessman who prevented many Jews from being sent to Nazi death camps in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.

Another of his most prominent roles has been the portrayal of Irish rebel leader Michael Collins in the film of the same name. His other work includes parts in The Mission, Suspect, Rob Roy and Batman Begins.

This is the second time Neeson has been offered the freedom of the borough after refusing the Co Antrim council's recognition in 2000 amid controversy over his alleged derogatory remarks. He was quoted as saying in an American magazine 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.

Only three people have been awarded the freedom of Ballymena: Ian Paisley, Dr Syd Millar and Sandy Spence.

Neeson was married to actress Natasha Richardson, who died in 2009 after suffering a serious head injury while skiing in Canada. He lives in New York and was awarded the OBE in 2000.

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