Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Liam's love for home town is no act ...

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

Like anyone who's ever been to Cushendall, I was shocked and disappointed not to see Robert De Niro in Ballymena supporting his old pal Liam Neeson as he was awarded the freedom of the City of the Seven Towers this week.

As every barman in Cushendall will tell you, even if you don't ask him or back away when he approaches, on an average weekend in Cushendall you can hardly move for Bob De Niro and Liam Neeson having great craic together, each telling the other what a great bunch of lads he is.

Despite this setback, Neeson's visit developed from something many self-deprecating Ballymenians joked about in the lead-up to something rather touching. Hollywood A-listers are used to being met by huge crowds of fans and autograph-seekers, but when Neeson shook hands and chatted with Ballymena locals, he seemed unusually sprightly. His voice regained the edge he's become used to smoothing out and the smile on his face got broader.

In his speech Neeson talked about how proud he was to be acknowledged by his own people, and described with a slight tremor how he'd had a sudden, overwhelming flow of emotion as he'd got closer to this particularly significant visit back to the streets he'd grown up in. His words about how far Northern Ireland had come since the Troubles were heartfelt and rousing. His demeanour suggested that you can go anywhere in the world, but no matter how fabulous it is, there's only ever one place called home.

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