Historic market in Ballymena starts life in new location

This Saturday sees the return of the Ballymena’s historic market which dates back to the days of King Charles I.

Ballymena Saturday Market is back on August 7 at the new location of Ballymoney Road car park

The market, which originated in the 1600s, is to set up in a new location on a main route into the town with the hope of attracting even more people.

The market will be held from 8am until 2pm at Ballymoney Road car park, bringing it closer to the town centre and public transport connections.

Traders old and new will be celebrating the move with music, performers and special offers to mark a new chapter in the market’s long history.

Gerry 'The Fish Man' McNabb has been trading in Ballymena for more than 40 years

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim William McCaughey said: “This move symbolises a reinvigoration of one of the town’s most valued assets.

“Not only will it ensure the future sustainability of the market but will continue to promote the town centre and its economic recovery plan by helping boost footfall and bringing a more connected feel to the high street and artisan traders.

“There has been such a demand for local, traceable produce over lockdown and we want to support our traders to capitalise on this. It’s only right that we help facilitate a more accessible market for locals and visitors alike, showing off our best local talent and produce right here in Mid and East Antrim.”

The origins of the weekly market in Ballymena date back to the 1600s, when King Charles I stipulated a Saturday market under the terms of the sale of the land that Ballymena is built on.

Gerry ‘The Fish Man’ McCann doesn’t quite go back that far but he has been trading in Mid and East Antrim for over 40 years.

He said: “I love it. It is a big part of my life. It is not really like work, it is just like going out and meeting friends.

“Our customers aren’t just customers, they are more like friends because we have got to know them over so many years. People come back week after week, year after year, and believe it or not I am now dealing with some of their children.”

Prior to the market’s relocation from the Seven Towers Leisure Centre to Ballymoney Road car park four sites were explored throughout the town.

Alderman Audrey Wales MBE said: “This is a new beginning for Ballymena’s Saturday Market. It signals a new future and a move that will ensure the future sustainability of the market within the context of promoting the town centre and its economic recovery plan.

“Council recognises the importance of the Saturday market and this new location will allow accessibility for more traders and customers. The aim is to benefit visitors, shoppers, and traders and ultimately help breathe new life into Ballymena Saturday Market.”

History of markets in Ballymena

Ballymena town is built on land given to the Adair family by King Charles I in 1626, on the basis that the town holds two annual fairs and a free Saturday market in perpetuity. The Saturday market still runs.

On 10 May 1607, King James I had granted the native Irish chief, Ruairi Og MacQuillan the ‘Ballymena Estate’. The estate passed through several owners, eventually passing into the possession of William Adair, a Scottish laird from Kinhilt in southwestern Scotland who had purchased it from Sir Faithful Fortescue.

With the coming of the Adairs the, then village of Ballymena, prospered and grow and, as a result of the increase in trade, a Market House was erected in 1684 when the current town hall now stands. It was likely to be a two storey multifunctional building, where local merchants sold on the ground floor and upper floor held a court house. The date is unknown but by the mid-1800s the market had relocated. A variety market, especially on a Saturday, were held at the Fair Hill. It closed in the 1980s and the Fairhill Shopping Centre now stands on the site.

The Market House was renovated in 1851 by Sir Alexander Shafto Adair, and by 1858 the building was being used as the Town Hall and it has remained the centre of civic administrative centre.

The Saturday market was held on the site where the Adairs built their seat of residence, Ballymena Castle until moving to Ballymoney Road.