Liam Neeson happy to sing the praises of 100-year-old Ballymena feis
Liam Neeson's aunt could not coax him into taking part in the Ballymena Festival of Music, Speech and Dance as a boy, but the Hollywood star has given the event a ringing endorsement as it hits its century this year.
In a message to organisers of Ballymena Feis, Neeson (63) praised the good the event has engendered in its 100 years.
Neeson's message came after he made a video that was played on a large screen at Ballymena's Wellington Street on Saturday, where a rally calling for more local jobs was held.
Neeson formerly worked as a forklift driver in the town.
Speaking via video message, he said: "For generations Ballymena has produced incredible craftspeople and skilled workers - raw materials for manufacturing and businesses to flourish.
"Giving up on manufacturing is not an option."
As for the feis, he praised organisers for their commitment to the arts and said members of his family had taken part.
In the festival participants compete against each other to win trophies and bursaries.
Festival spokeswoman Delia Close said: "Liam Neeson never took part in the festival despite the best efforts of his aunt Peggy McCann. Peggy was one of our committee members and all her children and grandchildren took part in the festival, but Liam could not be persuaded.
"However, to mark the centenary we still wanted to ask Liam for a bit of support as a Freeman of the borough and we are delighted with his response."
Neeson grew up in Corlea Gardens on the Demesne housing estate and started his acting career with the Slemish Players in the town.
His house was half-a-mile from Ballymena Town Hall - now known as The Braid - where the festival takes place this year. It was there in 2013 that the council bestowed the freedom honour.
Ahead of this year's festival, Neeson said: "As a Freeman of Ballymena, I am always pleased to hear about the good things that are happening in my home town. I want to congratulate Ballymena Festival of Music, Speech and Dance on reaching their centenary year in 2016. Many of my extended family members have been involved over the years in the festival, whether as teachers or performers or committee members.
"The feis has provided a platform for the nurturing of talent over generations and in many areas of the performing arts. I commend the organisers for their hard work and dedication, and encourage participants in this special year to appreciate they are part of a worthy tradition."
A centenary concert will be held in The Braid at 7.30pm this Saturday.