‘Electric atmosphere’ surrounds Dr Paisley visits to Ballymoney

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AS POLITICIANS and thousands of others in the North Antrim constituency are praying for a return to full health of Dr Ian Paisley, his huge influence in the area is being recalled.

Dr Paisley was elected in the north Antrim area in 1970 and through his dedicated constituency work of four decades he worked hard to bring investment and he strived to make an impact on many issues like jobs and housing for local people.

And at the heart of the constituency the Ballymoney area is a place he holds dearly.

Although he was brought up in Ballymena and many of his famous political speeches over the years were held there, Ballymoney is also a place which is so intertwined with the man known simply to many friends and supporters as ‘The Doc’.

Dr Paisley often visits the Ballymoney area where he has many long term friends, who have been with him throughout his political journey, people like Nat Storey, father of Ballymoney-based DUP Assemblyman Mervyn Storey.

And Ballymoney’s Riada Centre, later to be named the Joey Dunlop Centre, was also the scene of many of Dr Paisley’s biggest electoral triumphs as it was used as an electoral count centre before that service transferred in recent years to Ballymena.

Some famous moments at the electoral counts in Ballymoney included the incident in 2003 when, to make a point forcefully, Dr Paisley grabbed UTV news reporter Ivan Little by the lapels of his jacket.

Dr Paisley often visits Ballymoney not just for political activity but for church work and to visit friends.

And whenever he turns up in Ballymoney there is always a buzz as his charismatic presence on the streets generates considerable interest.

Mervyn Storey said he saw Dr Paisley when he called in to see his father Nat in Ballymoney three weeks ago.

“He was in good form and my father enjoyed catching up with him. They have known each other a long time.

“They first met when my father canvassed for him when he first stood for a Westminster seat in North Antrim.

“That friendship, I am proud to say, has lasted. Nat does not believe there is another man like him - and he is right.”

Mr Storey said he wants to see Dr Paisley make a speedy recovery and “be able to enjoy his retirement with his family”.

He added: “To say that we love Ian Paisley is not an understatement. He was so much part and parcel of my life growing up. I’m 47 years of age and from my earliest memories he has had a major impact on my life. I would just like to see a lot more of him.”

Dr Paisley was made a Freeman of Ballymoney Borough in a special ceremony in Ballymoney Town Hall back in October 21, 2000.

Other key events include his visits to the Hebron Free Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney and Ballymoney Independent Christian School.

And of course Dr Paisley is also a regular visitor to Independent Loyal Orange Institution events, which are often held in the Ballymoney area.

Dr Paisley is also a regular visitor to residential homes especially when people are celebrating significant anniversaries.

Beth Graham, manager of The Roddens establishment in Ballymoney, recalled Dr Paisley popping in in 2009 for resident Elizabeth McCartney’s 101st birthday.

Said Beth: “There was a great buzz when Dr Paisley arrived and he spoke to a number of residents. Elizabeth was mentally very alert and she was delighted with the visit.”

Former Ballymoney Mayor, DUP councillor Frank Campbell, knows Dr Paisley well and he wants Dr Paisley and his family to know that the thoughts and prayers of his family are with them.

Alderman Campbell is often in the presence of Dr Paisley when he visits the Ballymoney area and he knows at first hand the excitment which often comes with a visit by ‘The Doc’.

Alderman Campbell said: “My associations with Dr Paisley go back 40 years. When he first came on the scene he would have been someone who was seen as working from a Unionist point of view but in saying that - and I have been a DUP councillor for 18 years - the perception in that case was wrong because he worked for everyone in the Borough whether Unionist or Nationalist.

“He is a very nice and concerned person for anyone who has asked for his help in the past. He has never turned anyone away. He is a good father and husband and a very cautious politician because he has worked very hard to try and promote politics within the Province and also had influence outside of the Province such as at Brussels,” said Ald. Campbell.

The councillor said Dr Paisley has fought very hard on the job-front and was a big supporter of Ballymoney Business Centre in trying to get small businesses started up in the town and also helped businesses like JMF and McAuley Engineering to get established.

As Mayor, Ald Campbell attended the Hebron Free Presbyterian Church for events with Dr Paisley.

The councillor also attended residential homes with Dr Paisley in places like Victoria House in Rasharkin and Knockan Lodge at Finvoy and said the visits were also always greatly appreciated.

On the subject of meeting people, Ald Campbell says an “electric atmosphere” always surrounds Dr Paisley’s visits to his Ballymoney heartland.

“The way he meets and influences people on the ground I would commend him for it. He has a charismatic way with him.

“Any time he comes to Ballymoney he has an electric atmosphere gather around him. He brought his canvas bus to Ballymoney once and parked it in High Street and many people came over to see him.

“He was always shaking hands with people and he has a good memory for people’s names and faces.”

Cllr Campbell was present at the ‘Ivan Little’ incident at Ballymoney leisure centre electoral count.

“I was standing nearby and Ivan was shocked but Dr Paisley was moreorless forcefully getting his point across,” he remembered.

The councillor was also present at the Freedom of the Borough ceremony for ‘The Doc’

“Dr Paisley said getting the honour meant a lot to him as Ballymoney was in the heart of his North Antrim constituency.”

Looking to the future, Cllr Campbell said: “There will be politicians to follow him but there will never by another Dr Ian Paisley, He has had more than 40 years of service and his name is synonymous with North Antrim.”