Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

In Pictures: Liam Neeson awarded freedom of Ballymena

Hollywood actor Liam Neeson is welcomed by well-wishers to Ballymena town centre, where he was granted Freedom of the Borough

Liam Neeson has returned to the stage where it all began as he was granted the freedom of Ballymena.

The Hollywood star of blockbusters including Schindler's List and Michael Collins started out in his home town performing pantomimes with the Slemish Players.

He returned to receive the borough's highest honour.

Mayor PJ McAvoy said to the former Star Wars actor: "May the force be with you."

Ballymena Borough Council in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, rolled out the red carpet amid pomp and ceremony as Neeson said he was still "99.9% Ballymena" in his dedication to hard work.

"I am aware of the work that you have been doing the past few years, coming out of the darkness that we all had and hopefully leaving all that behind us - new days, new times - and I am just privileged to receive this," the star said.

Neeson arrived at the Braid Theatre to be greeted by friends and family, including his mother Kitty.

Wearing an open neck blue shirt and dark suit, he gave the thumbs-up as he shook the hands of well-wishers outside.

Neeson was offered the honour in 2000 but turned it down because of a controversy over some alleged derogatory comments he had made about the town.

He was quoted as saying 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.

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