Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

McKellen ancestor 'like Paisley'

Sir Ian McKellen, who delivered the Chancellor's Lecture at the University of Ulster, and actor James Nesbitt (University of Ulster/PA)
Sir Ian McKellen, who delivered the Chancellor's Lecture at the University of Ulster, and actor James Nesbitt (University of Ulster/PA)
Sir Ian McKellen, who delivered the Chancellor's Lecture at the University of Ulster where he was conferred an honorary degree (University of Ulster/PA)

Film and theatre legend Sir Ian McKellen has compared his great-great grandfather to 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.

McKellen, 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," McKellen 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."

McKellen 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," McKellen said.

McKellen, 73, who is openly gay, took the opportunity to discuss gay rights and growing up as a young homosexual in post-war Lancashire in 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.

McKellen 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.

University Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Barnett praised McKellen before he was presented with the honorary doctorate. He said it was a great coup for the university that the star had agreed to deliver the annual Chancellor's Lecture - particularly in the City of Culture. "But Ian Murray McKellen is also a man of deep personal conscience. He is known as a voice of liberty," Prof Barnett said. "And he is known for his attention to the everyday matters of human courtesy, respect and loyalty - all evident in his acting. We are delighted to be able to honour him today at our Magee campus and to have him deliver the annual Chancellor's Lecture for the first time in the UK City of Culture."

Nightlife Galleries

More

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz