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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK


Star Wars actor rattles sabres

Parents would not let young Liam Neeson view Orange marches

Remarks by Star Wars actor Liam Neeson that he felt like a second-class citizen in his Northern Ireland hometown of Antrim have sparked controversy.

The star of Episode I - The Phantom Menace, told US magazine George he stayed indoors during the 12 July celebrations by Orangemen of the Protestant victory in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

[ image: Liam Neeson grew up as a Catholic in Rev Ian Paisley's hometown]
Liam Neeson grew up as a Catholic in Rev Ian Paisley's hometown
When the actor - who played IRA leader Michael Collins in the film of the same name - asked his parents why he could not go outside with his friends to watch the "fantastic bands playing", they told him: "You don't need to know."

"It's the passion you know - from some bloody obscure war where some bloody Catholic king was defeated by some bloody Dutch king who was Protestant - and that's celebrated," he said.

"The distillation of loss has been deformed and passed from father to son, father to son," he said, adding that it was "genetically encoded" that he leave the County Antrim town.

'Slur on town'

DUP local councillor Maurice Mills reacted angrily to the comments in the magazine, which is published by John Kennedy Jr, the son of the assassinated US President, John F Kennedy.

"The content of his remarks as attributed - is a slur on the town of Ballymena," he said.

Mr Mills pointed out that the star's remarks about the Battle of the Boyne showed that the Hollywood star did not appreciate the civil and religious liberties gained as a result of King William of Orange's victory.

Cllr Mills does not accept that the laser-sabre wielding hero of Star Wars cowered in his home during the celebrations. He also says that many other Catholics came out and some exploited the event for commercial reasons.

'Neeson is welcome'

He admits the town had suffered some negative publicity in the past due to the loyalist picket on Catholic massgoers at St Mary's Church in Harryville but said Ballymena's expanding Catholic population showed these times had changed.

The way is paved, however, for the return of the Jedi knight to his hometown as long as he clears up the damage caused by his remarks.

Cllr Mills will not be going to see Star Wars when it opens in Ballymena and throughout the UK next Friday.

"I've no interest in Star Wars but if Mr Neeson wants to come to Ballymena for publicity purposes or whatever, he's welcome."

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