Ballymoney means ‘Place of the peat land’, it developed on a low ridge that rose out of the surrounding bog land where routes from the north-south and east -west converged. It is widely cited as one of the oldest market towns in Ireland and has some excellent examples of period architecture. the town also has a large number of unique independent businesses. The earliest existing building is the church tower at Church Street which dates to 1637, it was rebuilt after being burnt during the 1641 rebellion and remained in use until 1782. The area has been inhabited since Neolithic times, evidence of this has can be seen at Craigs Dolmen and Broad Stone and Dooeys Cairn at Dunloy. The oldest recorded settlement in Ireland is a few miles away at Mountsandel Fort on the Bann Valley Scenic Drive.
It is believed the original settlement formed from on the site of two pre - Christiam forts, one at the western end of what is now Castle Street and the other at the eastern end (Meeting House Street). In the borough you can find numerous early Christian sites such as Drumaquern where the Chi Rho Stone is. The Normans invasion of Ulster included Ballymoney, they built a fortified house on the site of one of the earlier forts, this guarded the western approach to the settlement, on the other site a house stood until the last century. These two locations formed the beginnings of Ballymoney as a settlement from which the town would develop from. In the outlying area you will find some nice examples of early Norman fortifications: Knockahollet Motte and Bailey at Loughgiel and Drumart Motte on the Kirk Road.
The town became a centre for rural commerce which developed from the plantation period, the Earl of Antrim Sir Randal MacDonnell planted lowland Scots on his land in the area. The church of 1637 was built on the site of an earlier church building to accommodate the growing population of the time. The plantation introduced centralised markets and commerce on a more structured scale and Blalymoney grew from this. During the rebellion of 1641 the settlement was attacked and burnt. Through the next two centuries the town developed. The combination of a rural and centrally located market town with the advent of the linen industry saw Ballymoney become one of the most prosperous rural market towns in Ireland. A general market took place here weekly selling grain, fish, potatoes, oats,meat, peat, dairy products and general goods, a grain market took place three times a week and a livestock market once a week. Animals and poultry would be brought in from the outlying rural area, it was not uncommon for cattle, pigs and geese to be driven on foot from as far away as Ballycastle and Bushmills. The linen industry also greatly benefited the commerce of the town as a market centre for the finished product.
The town held two hiring fairs each year, one in May and another in November. Men, women and children would come and present themselves for hire as farm labourers and domestic servants. Until farm machinery developed this was the only way food production took place. The beautiful period architecture in the town reflect the prosperity that existed here. The 5th and 6th Earl of Antrim both invested in the towns development with buildings like the Northern Bank on High Street (1760) and the Masonic Hall and Town Clock (1775), the latter was was originally used as the Market House, Court House, Town Hall and School.
A later Court House (Charlotte St) designed by Charles Lanyon who was the county surveyor was built in 1836, Lanyon became one of Ulster's best known architects, the Court House he designed remained in use for over 130 years. In 1866 the Town Hall was built by public subscriptions and today functions as an Arts Centre and Museum. Interestingly one of the first provincial museums in Ireland opened in Ballymoney in 1860. The rise of the linen trade impacted onlocal commerce, though no mills developed in the town. In the rural areas flax was being grown, bleached and then sold here and transported to Belfast by train. In 1866 one of the largest spinning mills outside Belfast was built at Harmony Hill (Balnamore) just outside Ballymoney, this employed close to 400 workers.
It was originally founded by John Caldwell in 1764 who bought a corn mill and land at Harmony Hill He created a bleach works and beetling mill and the business dramatically developed. The spinning mill built by later owners in 1866 incorporated 400 water powered spindles and produced yarn for sail cloth and canvas. The large number of people employed here led to the development of Balnamore village around the mill with for mill worker cottages, a shop and eventually a school. The mill continued to produce until the industry went into decline during the 1930s. The mill officially closed in 1959.
Ballymoney railway station opened in 1855 on the main line from Belfast to Londonderry, it was part of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. The classic railway station we see today was built in 1901 and designed by Berkeley Deane Wise. Ballymoney was also the terminus for the Ballycastle narrow gauge railway which ran for seventeen miles connecting the villages of Dervock, Stranocum, Gracehill, Armoy and Capecastle. It opened in 1880 and at its peak carried over 80,000 passengers per year. The narrow gauge railway closed in 1950 and the main line goods services ceased in 1965.
Samuel Robinson, regarded as one of the fathers of the modern supermarket emigrated from the borough in 1888 to Philadelphia, here he formed a partnership with Robert Crawford in the grocery business. He later founded the American Stores Company in 1917 and introduce new ideas into shopping for the consumer which are used today by all mega stores. He displayed products on shelves so people could browse them, provided free parking at the stores and introduced shopping trolleys. The company became one of the largest in America and he became very wealthy, he always kept his connection with Ballymoney and in 1933 funded the building of the Robinson Memorial Hospital n memory of his parents.
The playwright George Sheils (1881-1949) was born at Ballybrakes, Ballymoney in 1881, he later emigrated to Canada where he found employment on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. A serious accident at work in 1913 confined him to a wheelchair, after which he returned to Ballymoney and began his writing career. In 1921 his long relationship with the Abbey Theatre began when his play ’Bedmates’ was performed, this relationship continued with thirty more plays being performed at the Abbey Theatre and some also being taken to Broadway. His success allowed him to move from Ballymoney to Carnlough where he lived until his death in 1949. A blue plaque at Shingle Cove, Carnlough marks where his home ‘New Lodge’ was. His modesty as an individual and writer is reflected in his refusal of an honorary degree from Queens University and also membership of the Irish Academy of Letters. He passed away in September, 1949 and is buried in the Church of Our Lady and St Patrick at Ballymoney.
World Champion motorcycle racer Joey Dunlop OBE MBE was born near Ballymoney, a memorial garden was created in his honour not far from the bar he ran near the railway station, aptly named Joey's Bar. An extension to the garden was created to honour his brother Robert Dunlop who died in 2008 at the North West 200 during practise sessions. Joey was awarded the MBE for his contribution to sport and the OBE for his humanitarian work for children in Romanian orphanages. He died while racing in Estonia in 2002.