Ballymoney: Behind the brave faces, a town fears for its future
Ballymoney’s residents tell our reporters of their concerns in the recession
Ballymoney is struggling. Like many towns of it size across Northern Ireland it hasn’t been exempt from the ravages of the recession.
Local people are scared of losing their jobs, not being able to pay the mortgage and of not having the means to educate their children.
But despite everything there is an incredible spirit of resilience about the place — perhaps that’s why people live longer here than anywhere else in Ireland.
Locals will tell you, however, that evidence of the economic downturn is everywhere in this once bustling market town.
They will tell you of an entire street which has been earmarked for development for almost a decade and yet still lies dormant, and shopkeepers will tell you of their frustration over the cost of doing business in a town peppered, for the most part, with charity shops and discount stores.
“I have a shop on the Main Street and I am surrounded by shutters and charity shops,” said long-standing retailer Eddie Cassells. “Why should I have to pay full rates when charity shops don’t? And the traffic wardens patrol the street while Tesco, which is behind me, has a massive car park specifically for their customers. It’s hard to compete.”
Several big employers have disappeared from the area in recent years, but the factory of Maine Soft Drinks Ltd is still doing good business and employing local people.
Sandwiched between the conurbations of Coleraine and Ballymena, some businessmen said they have had to close — or relocate — as a result of the economic downturn.
Newsagent James Simpson, who is also a local councillor, said unemployment was rife.
“The main issue is lack of jobs but there is not much we can do about it locally,” he said.
However, on the street the people remain surprisingly cheerful and are loathe to complain. But they do tell it as it is.
“Ballymoney is not like it used to be. There are a lot of things closing down,” said 82-year-old Kathleen O’Connor, a life-long resident.
Rumour has it that the future of the local regional college hangs in the balance. It’s one of the few large employers left and it dramatically increases footfall in the town on a daily basis.
“We’ve heard talk that the college might be relocated soon, maybe to Coleraine,” said Bobby Smith (18), a student. “That would be a shame, but I suppose centralisation is just the way things are going.”
Ballymoney can find it hard to attract tourists when the seaside resorts of Portrush and Portstewart are less than 10 miles down the road, but there is a hotel serving the area as well as a number of pubs.
Self-employed computer technician Boyd McNeill (40) said the night-time economy needs a boost.
“We do have the Manor Hotel here, but we need a big chain to open up as well,” he said.
In the summer, however, Ballymoney is a different place, bustling with motorbikes and band parades.
The town is proud of its motorcycle heritage, with memorial gardens dedicated to the world-famous Dunlop brothers, Joey and Robert, attracting thousands in the run-up to the North West 200.
Traffic warden Ryan Clarke (34), who patrols the north west, said Ballymoney was his favourite port of call.