Famous Faces of Ballymoney

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Joey Dunlop – Motorcycling Legend

William Joseph Dunlop was born at Culduff, near Ballymoney, on 25 February 1952. His career as a motorcycle road racer is unrivalled and earned him an MBE in 1986. He inspired loyalty from a legion of fans spread over every continent. Exhaustive humanitarian work set him apart from any sportsman of his day, and for this, he was awarded an OBE in 1996. The ‘King of the Roads’ was one of the most remarkable men of his generation.

Joey began racing in 1969 and, within a few years, had established a reputation as an exciting and talented rider. With his colleagues in the Armoy Armada, he began to win trophies at circuits and road races throughout the British Isles. When his life was tragically cut short in Estonia in 2000, he had amassed a staggering 26 TT wins at the Isle of Man and 13 at the NW200. Joey may never surpass his achievements with five World Championships and over 160 other victories.

Robert Dunlop – The Mighty Macro

At 17 years old, Robert Dunlop followed his older brother, Joey, into motorcycle racing. While Joey was becoming a world champion, Robert gathered valuable experience racing on the road circuits of Ireland.

His first win was at Fore, Co. Westmeath, in 1980. Two years later, he won the 125cc race at the Mid-Antrim 150. His local success attracted the attention of significant teams, and in 1990, he signed for JPS Norton. 

Robert was outstanding on a 125cc bike. At the peak of his career, he dominated this class for two consecutive years, beating all challengers at the North West 200, Ulster Grand Prix and Isle of Man TT in 1990 & 1991.

In 1994, Robert suffered the crash that would end his chance of fulfilling his potential as a world champion. It was two years before he raced again.

Overcoming terrible injuries, Robert showed the determination that made him a hero to many. He was back on the podium by the end of the season.

Robert’s last major win was at the North West 200 in 2006. This was his 15th victory at the circuit, and he remains the most successful rider at the Triangle. Tragically, it was also here that Robert was killed during practice on Thursday, 15 May 2008.

Robert was named Enkalon Motorcyclist of the Year twice, first in 1987 and again in 1991. He was awarded Freedom of the Borough of Ballymoney in 2007.

Archibald Hutchinson – Politician & Attorney General from Stranocum

The only son of Archibald and Christian Hutchinson of Stranocum, Archibald led a colourful life building a successful career and a sizable fortune. As a young man, he established himself as a meticulous lawyer in England. By the age of 29, he was fortunate to be offered the position of Attorney General of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean Ocean.

He is most renowned for investigating the South Seas Company financial scandal of 1720, which caused the first collapse of the British financial markets and nearly bankrupted England. Hutchinson is credited with approaching the crisis with calmness and reason.

Archibald Hutchinson is also remembered for the confusion that followed his death. In his Will, he left £17,000 to his ‘poor relatives in Ireland’. Despite his legal experience, using such broad terminology meant that his legacy was not settled for nearly 60 years. The disorder surrounding the ‘Hutchinson Bequest’ even led to a particular Act of Parliament. He is buried in St James’ Church in Westminster.

George McCartney – The first British Ambassador to China

Born at Lissanoure Castle, Loughguile, on 14 May 1737, George Macartney was one of the most celebrated diplomats of his time.

Throughout his life, he held high-profile diplomatic positions before securing his most prominent position as the first British Ambassador to China. These included: British Ambassador to Russia, where he was a friend of Catherine the Great; Chief Secretary of Ireland; Governor of Grenada, the Grenadines and Tobago; Governor of Madras, India.

Despite his success, he encountered a few setbacks. In 1779, he was captured by the French, who took over the colonies. He was later exchanged for a French prisoner held in British hands. This episode caused Macartney to lose almost all his possessions, leaving him penniless.

He returned to live at Lissanoure on several occasions throughout his life, where he lived with his wife, Lady Jane Stuart, daughter of the British Prime Minister. In 1798, weary of travelling and suffering ill health in his advancing years, Macartney returned home a final time. He died in Chiswick, London, on 31 March 1806, where he is buried. 

Rev. James Armour – Champion of Home Rule

As a clergyman, it is perhaps a surprise that ‘Armour of Ballymoney’ was one of the most prominent political figures to emerge from North Antrim at the turn of the twentieth century.

James Brown Armour was born at Lisboy, near the town of Ballymoney, on 20 January 1841. In 1869 Armour was appointed minister at Second Ballymoney (known as Trinity) Presbyterian Church, where he served until his retirement in 1925. 

Armour was an enthusiastic supporter of the Tenant Rights Campaign, which, when granted by the Government in 1881, allowed tenants to become owner-occupiers of the land they worked.

He is renowned for his support of Home Rule in Ireland. Although initially opposed to the idea, he later believed that Home Rule was the best solution for Ireland. It would boost the Irish economy and bring reconciliation between Protestants and Roman Catholics. He organised a public meeting in Ballymoney in 1913 to build support amongst the local Protestant population but had little success.

Armour was married to Jennie Stavely Hamilton, a widow who already had two sons; with her, he had three sons of his own. He died of pneumonia on 25 January 1928.

George Shiels – Popular playwright

George Shiels was one of the most popular Irish playwrights of the early twentieth century. In the days before, people had televisions, and many homes didn’t even have a radio, a play by Shiels could pack the stalls and galleries of any theatre in Ireland.

Shiels was born on 24 June 1881 at Ballybrakes, Ballymoney. He spent some years in America before returning to Ballymoney in 1908, where he opened a travel and shipping company.

He began writing poems and short stories published in local newspapers and magazines. Soon he was writing plays for the Ulster Literary Theatre. His work appealed to local audiences as it was set in Co. Antrim, with plenty of Ulster humour. 

His best-known plays include ‘The Passing Day’ and ‘The New Gossoon’. In 1940, at the height of his fame, his play “The Rugged Path” was seen by 40,000 people over three months at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

Ironically, for a long time, the one place where you could not see a Shiels play was in Ballymoney! After one drama group decided to spice up a script with swear words, causing much offence, Shiels banned productions of his plays here.

Jame Young – Comedian

James Young will be known to the people of Ulster by many names, including Derek, the window cleaner & Wee Sammy. Thirty years ago, he was one of Northern Ireland’s best-loved comedians and actors.  

James Young was born in Union Street, Ballymoney, in 1918. When he was only six months old, his family moved to Belfast. A plaque can be seen outside the house where he briefly lived.

At the age of 15, he began his stage career. He joined a theatre company and moved to England. By 1949, he was back home and had a big hit as Derek, the window cleaner, in a BBC radio show called ‘The McCooeys’. This launched Jimmy as a local star, and he was soon writing his comedy shows and filling theatres across the country.

Jimmy was offered his radio show, ‘The Young Idea’. He invented new characters, such as Wee Ernie, from the Belfast Shipyard, Mrs O’Condriac, who was always ill, and Wee Sammy, the naughty boy.

He toured theatres all over Ireland, Canada and America, sold thousands of records and had his television show. Sadly, Jimmy Young died of a heart attack on 5 July 1974.

Kennedy McArthur – Olympic Gold Medalist

On Sunday, 14 July 1912, the name of K.K. McArthur was added to Olympic history when he triumphed in South African colours in Stockholm, Sweden. However, nowhere was McArthur’s marathon victory celebrated with more pride than in his birthplace, the village of Dervock.

Kennedy Kane McArthur was born in Dervock on 10 February 1881. It wasn’t until after he emigrated to Johannesburg, South Africa, that he began to pursue a career in athletics.

The Stockholm Olympic marathon took place in the sweltering heat. As he reached the finish line, McArthur was suffering badly from fatigue. Almost collapsing, he heard a voice from the crowd urging him on in a familiar accent:

“Come on, Antrim, come on, ye boy ye!”

It was enough to give McArthur the boost he needed to win first place. McArthur was welcomed home by a considerable crowd and brought to the Town Hall, where a large bronze plaque was unveiled in his honour.

He was forced to retire due to injury. He made many return visits to Dervock and settled there. He died in South Africa aged 79. His trophies and memorabilia can be seen today at the Potchefstroom Museum.

 Robert Hannah – New Zealand business tycoon

Although not a name is well known around Ballymoney, everyone has heard of Robert Hannah’s shoes in his adopted home of New Zealand.

Robert was born on 10 September 1845 on the Hannah family farm near Ballymoney. In his early years, he was apprenticed to a cobbler in Kilrea before emigrating to Australia in 1863.

In 1868, he opened his first boot shop in the town of Charleston, where the gold rush had enticed many prospectors. He later moved to Wellington, where his business rapidly expanded and by 1897, he had ten branches of his store on the North Island. 

At one time, he commanded half the shoe trade in New Zealand. He gained the reputation of a ‘shrewd, hard businessman’, although he was greatly respected by his staff, who were well paid. 

In 1904, he built a new home for his family, a luxurious Edwardian mansion named ‘Antrim House’. Robert Hannah died in 1930, aged 85, and his business continues today. Some of his descendants still live in the Ballymoney area. In 1978, ‘Antrim House’ was presented to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, which uses it today as its national administrative headquarters.

William McKinley – 25th President of the USA

William McKinley was the President of the United States of America from 1897-1901. He led his country into the twentieth century, overcoming war and economic crisis, before his assassination on 14 September 1901.

His great grandfather, James McKinley, emigrated from the townland of Conagher, near Dervock, in 1743. He settled in Niles, Ohio, where William McKinley was born on 29 January 1843. In 1877, McKinley began his political career in Washington as a Republican Congressman and later became Ohio State Governor. 

In 1897, a comfortable majority elected William McKinley to the presidential office. Under his presidency, America asserted itself in the global arena. In 1900, American troops were sent to China to help quell the “Boxer Rebellion”, fighting alongside European and Japanese armies. McKinley also opened economic negotiations with China and established an ‘Open Door Policy under which American trade prospered.

Shortly after being re-elected for a second Presidential term, William McKinley was assassinated at Buffalo, Ohio, on 6 September 1901. McKinley was the last Civil War veteran to become President. He is considered a decisive statesman who helped the United States become a significant player on the world stage.

Samuel Robinson – Chainstore millionaire

Samuel Robinson was born on 9 June 1865 at Culcrum, near Cloughmills. He served an apprenticeship with his uncle, William James Megaw (Chairman of Ballymoney Urban District Council 1888-1920), who was a grocer and coal merchant in Ballymoney. 

In 1888, Robinson emigrated to Philadelphia. He formed a partnership with Robert H. Crawford and went into the grocery business there. In 1917, he established the American Stores Company and revolutionised how people shopped. Many of his ideas are things which today we take for granted. For example, he displayed all the goods on shelves for the customer to browse through; he bought the land surrounding his shops to give customers free parking spaces and provided trolleys for shoppers to carry their goods.

The American Stores Company (or ACME) had shops across the continent, and Robinson was soon a very wealthy man. Back home in Ballymoney, in 1933, he paid for the Robinson Memorial Hospital to be built in memory of his late parents.

Samuel Robinson always remembered and loved his home in Co. Antrim and retained strong connections throughout his life.

Samuel McClure – American publisher

Samuel S. McClure was born at his grandfather’s house at the Frosses, near the familiar rows of fir trees. In 1866, the McClure family emigrated to Quebec, Canada, where Samuel spent his teenage years working on the family farm. 

He was educated at Knox College, Illinois, and then worked for a time at a cycle firm, where he was asked to edit a newly launched cycle magazine called The Wheelman. While working for Century Magazine in New York, he quickly developed a new concept of syndicating fiction, an idea that would make him his fortune. McClure realised he could sell new pieces of serialised fiction to the newspapers.

McClure set up America’s first newspaper syndicate in 1884 and quickly introduced millions of American readers to the early works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. In 1889, McClure bought the first twelve Sherlock Holmes stories for £12 each. He is also credited with discovering Rudyard Kipling when he purchased the rights to serialise The Jungle Book.

McClure never forgot his Co, Antrim roots, returning on at least two occasions to visit family and friend

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