New Motorway was the talk of the town!

Jane Witherspoon


Jane Witherspoon

March and April 1969 were quiet in Ballymena regarding the outbreaking ‘Troubles’ taking place in other parts of Northern Ireland - however plenty of local news was making the headlines.

March 1969 saw Councillors in the spotlight once more as members of the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV) held a picket protest outside the Town Hall before a Council meeting.

The protest came after a rally where Rev Ian Paisley had addressed the crowd.

The UPV were annoyed that Council had refused them permission to use the Town Hall for a Protestant rally in February, and so they were showing their views via the protest.

Some of their placards read: "Welcome to Ballymena, the graveyard of democracy" while others read: "Democracy's Executioners."

Although the protest was silent, their presence was well felt.

Mobile Banking

Meanwhile, there was good news for the area as the country's first mobile bank was rolled out in Ballymena and district.

The Bank of Ireland set up 'Banking on the Doorstep' to bring the bank to people in rural areas who found it difficult to travel into town.

This brought significant credit to the local area as it was the first place such a service was introduced.

The then mayor of Ballymena took great pleasure in launching the service at Leighinmohr House Hotel.

Such a service does not exist today, however many would argue there is no need for it as most people have access to a car or indeed online banking, a feat not yet possible in 1969!

O’Neill faces protestors

The then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O'Neill faced protesters at Randalstown Orange Hall while he was addressing Bannside constituents.

He faced calls inside the meeting, with people shouting: “O'Neill won't go!” to which Randalstown Unionist Dr. Bolton Minford responded: “O'Neill is here, O'Neill isn't going and he won't go!”

Meanwhile, a group of ‘extreme Protestants’ in the audience of nearly 350 people gave the Prime Minister a noisy reception as he spoke to Bannside constituents.

About 50 followers of Rev Ian Paisley heckled and shouted Capt. O'Neill down and a tomato was thrown at the platform, however it struck a Ballymena reporter!

Eggs were then thrown at the Prime Minister as he left the hall.

Entrance to the meeting was by ticket only, however it was announced that some forged tickets were going around so people had to identify themselves before gaining entry in.


Flooding was a concern in April 1969.

There were talks about total immunity from flooding from the Rivers Maine and Braid however this would have led to great expense and would have involved a major programme of bridge reconstruction and widespread interference with domestic and industrial property.

Vandals were a source of annoyance as they caused damage to the £27,000 sports pavilion at the John Simpson Memorial Playing Fields off the Wakehurst Road.

In Sport in April 1969, Ballymena Academy had reached the semi-finals of the Rugby Schools Cup.

However, sadly for the local boys, they lost for the second year in a row with a score of 9 points to 5 to Campbell.

Ballymena’s M2

The main news of the month was the opening of the new M2 Bypass road, which world provide a motorway alternative to the main town centre.

This £5million piece of road was officially opened by Mr Nat Minford who was Secretary of State at the Ministry of Development at the time.

It was hoped this new road would solve much of the towns congestion problems as much of the traffic would now use the new five and a half mile stretch of motorway.

There were concerns that the by-pass would steal trade away from the town centre, however as the opening day drew near, town centre traders were starting to conform to the opinion that reduced congestion in the centre would actually attract people to the shops.

A specially equipped Jaguar police car was deployed to carry out a highway patrol.

Carrying a highly experienced team of police officers, the car was able to be in constant radio contact with traffic control in Ballymena.

The car was a white 3.4 litre illuminated police car that was crammed full with various emergency items.

The back seats were even removed to stow flashing red lamps and large signs to warn of accidents.

The two officers who had the pleasure of driving the specially designed car were Constables John McConnell and Wesley Russell, who both had special training for the motorway patrol.

Specific advice was given to motorists on how to use the road, as this was the first motorway in the mid-Antrim area.

Users were warned to drive within their own capabilities and those of their vehicle and they were reminded that right turns are not permitted!

Do you remember the opening of the M2 bypass?

If so, we'd love to hear from you on your memories of when you first got to drive on Ballymena's motorway!

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