Final days of Ballymoney Council - Harry Connolly looks back

AT HOME. Alderman Harry Connolly, outside his Glenbush home.INBM12-15 091SC.
AT HOME. Alderman Harry Connolly, outside his Glenbush home.INBM12-15 091SC.

Alderman Harry Connolly, Deputy Mayor, has served the people of Ballymoney borough for 42 years and is the only councillor remaining from that first council in 1973.

As the curtain comes down prior to the introduction of the new super council, he reflects on his time as a servant to the people of an area he loves dearly.

“I joined the council in 1973 as part of the reorganisation and since then I’ve seen a lot of changes,” commented Harry..

“When I started housing was very poor particularly in rural areas. I was involved in a lot of negotiations with the Housing Executive with regards cottages in the country as some of them had no facilities whatsoever. Some of them had outside toilets, some had none and it was very hard for folk.

“We also did a lot of work with regard to housing estates and at that time there was a very small catchment. Thankfully we were able to make a difference and I have to say that the Housing Executive did a good job in all the estates in my area and people did get better facilities, better kitchens and better bathrooms.

“Another big issue was the state of the roads which were very bad then. Again I was involved in a lot of negotiations, this time with the Road Service and in particular the planners. At that time councillors had no authority in planning, they just had a consultative role and it involved attending an awful lot of site meetings.

“I attended many site meetings with the Reverend Ian Paisley when he was MP for North Antrim. I found him a very jolly man and great craic when we were out and about.

“When I look back I am very pleased with a lot of the road improvements we made. In particular there was a footpath which ran from Loughguile village down to the GAA pitches They wouldn’t release the money to do that and it took me over six years to get that completed. It ended up costing a lot more money when it was completed than it would have had when I first asked to have it done. The same thing is happening now at Corkey Road.”

With the good times at council, also came the bad as the Deputy Mayor explained: “In the early days the Troubles were on and you were often warned by the then RUC as they were then, to change your route on the way home which wasn’t always possible to do. It was a very worrying time as I had a 10 mile drive to get home but as a public representative you can’t stay at home, you had to get out there and do what you were elected for.

It was particularly bad in 1985 as the council was quite split at that time and there were a lot of protests at night, sometimes in the chamber. It was quite a concern to come out through the protests when you were leaving but its great to see how far things have come since then.

Having served the area for over four decades Alderman Connolly has many memories.

“I’ve had many high and lows but thankfully more highs,” continued Harry. One of my biggest regrets was not being able to prevent the closure of the Route Hospital. I met with ministers from England but unfortunately our campaign fell on deaf ears and it was closed. We did our best to try and keep the accident and emergency going until they opened the new hospital but again that was shot down and that was a battle which we lost it. We had meetings after meetings in a bid to save it but to no avail.

“I always tried to do my best for everyone. I was involved in meetings all over the borough and tried to get things sorted for everyone. In most cases I was reasonably successful but you had your failures too of course.

“However, I’ve also had some very good moments. One of the best was a couple of years ago when Loughguile Shamrocks were playing in the All Ireland semi finals and final in 2012 and I escorted the DUP mayor Ian Stevenson to Croke Park.

“It was very much appreciated by everyone at the club and it was a great thing in my life to do that. It was a sign of the progress that had been made and I really appreciated what he did. It was a great day for the club and it was a great thing he did breaking ground like that.

“I always tried to work with everybody and people were friendly towards me because I did that. When I was Deputy Mayor in 2007 I went along on Remembrance Day to lay a wreath at Dervock War Memorial and people appreciated the fact I did that. That was my thing, I was a councillor to represent everyone.”

As the new super council comes into being next month Alderman Connolly will watch with interest how the borough he served tirelessly will be looked after..

“Things as we know it are coming to an end and I suppose that’s sad to see. I dont know if it’s for the best, we were told the super councils would help save a lot of money but we will just have to wait and see.

“I worry about the rural areas with the introduction of these new councils. It will be completely different and I will be very interested to see how it all works out because everyone will be fighting their own corner.

“There’s no doubt I will miss it being a councillor. Its been interesting work and I have enjoyed it. I have met a lot of people from all walks of life and I wouldn’t change that.

“I would like to thank the people of Bushvale, Ballyhoe and Corkey for supporting me over the last 42 years and returning me to Council and all I can say is that I hope I brought them some good.”