UK & World News

  • 28 January 2013, 21:53

Liam Neeson Awarded Freedom Of Home Town

Oscar-nominated actor Liam Neeson arrived back in Ballymena to a jubilant welcome as he accepted the freedom of his home town.

The star of Schindler's List and Taken was welcomed by cheers from a large crowd of well-wishers as he arrived at the reception in the Northern Ireland town.

"It is great to be back," he said.

This was the second time Neeson had been offered the freedom of the borough - he refused the County Antrim council's recognition in 2000 amid controversy over alleged derogatory remarks.

He was quoted as saying in a US magazine 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.

But after the ceremony he said: "I'm aware of the work the borough's been doing in the past few years ... coming out of the darkness as we all have, and hopefully left all that behind us.

"These are new days, new times and I'm just privileged to receive this." 

Only three people have been awarded the freedom of Ballymena: Ian Paisley, Dr Syd Millar and Sandy Spence.

Neeson started his career in Belfast's Lyric Theatre and later joined the Abbey Theatre in Dublin before moving to London, then Hollywood.

He was spotted by film director John Boorman while at the Abbey, subsequently appearing in Boorman's film Excalibur in 1981.

He was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of a German businessman who prevented many Jews from being sent to Nazi death camps in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.

Another of his most prominent roles has been the portrayal of Irish rebel leader Michael Collins in the film of the same name.

His other work includes parts in The Mission, Suspect, Rob Roy and Batman Begins.

Neeson was married to actress Natasha Richardson, who died in 2009 after suffering a serious head injury while skiing in Canada.

He lives in New York with their two sons and was awarded the OBE in 2000.

Before taking to the stage he was a boxer and a forklift truck driver.