Ballymoney is a town historically in County Antrim in Northern Ireland; those counties have been abolished and it's now part of Causeway Coast and Glens District. Baile Monaidh means "homestead on the peatland" and it was a small agricultural town along the Belfast-Coleraine road, now A26. In the late 20th century it burgeoned into a commuter town and in 2011 the population was 10,402.
Ballymoney's best known tourist attraction, Dark Hedges, is 8 miles northeast on the road to Ballycastle.
Motorcycle racing is popular in Northern Ireland. One reason is the exploits of Ballymoney man Joey Dunlop (1952-2000).
At the start of the 20th century, all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, yet there were different rules on road-racing. The 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup for sports cars was to be held in the UK but road racing was illegal in Great Britain but not in Ireland. So it was staged on closed public roads around Athy - shamrock green was chosen as the British national racing colour, and it's remained so ever since.
After 1921 motor sports continued in both the north and south, but the north had a better industrial base, and venues such as disused airfields. The Republic lacked an off-road dedicated circuit until Mondello Park opened near Naas in 1966. The north had Kirkistown on the Ards peninsula and Bishopscourt at Downpatrick. It also developed on-road circuits, notably Clady and Dundrod near Antrim town, and the Northwest 200 - that was so named because it was supposed to be around Derry and Donegal, but from inception in 1929 was a triangle around Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush. Smaller circuits were at Cookstown, Tandragee in Armagh, and Armoy near Ballymoney.
Joey Dunlop grew up to the sound of motorbikes roaring through Ballymoney and by his 20s was leader of the pack. He won the Ulster Grand Prix 24 times, took three hat-tricks of events at the Manx TT, and numerous other titles. He was awarded an MBE for services to the sport, then an OBE in 1996 for his charity work. The end came suddenly on a wet summer day in Tallinn in July 2000: he'd already won two events on the Pirita on-road circuit and was leading a third, when he appeared to lose control and hit the trees.
The sport in Northern Ireland has declined since, and two other members of Joey's family have died in racing motorbike crashes. The Ulster Grand Prix on Dundrod circuit was in difficulty even before Covid enforced a shutdown. It was expected to resume in Aug 2022, but was cancelled as the finances didn't add up. Meanwhile other sports are drawing away audiences and sponsors.
Trains run hourly, daily from Belfast Great Victoria Street via other Belfast stations, Antrim (for International Airport) and Ballymena, taking 80 min to Ballymoney. They continue to Coleraine (change for Ulster University and Portrush) and Derry.
1 Ballymoney railway station is central in town.
Goldline Bus 218 / 219 runs every two hours from Belfast Europa station via Antrim, Ballymena, and Cloughmills, taking 90 min to Ballymoney and continuing to Coleraine. Ballymoney has nothing so grand as a bus station, but the main stop is on High St by the Town Hall.
By road from Belfast follow M2 and A26, an hour should do it.
Bus 373 trundles round town four times a day; visitors are unlikely to use it.
You need a car or at least a bike to reach Dark Hedges.
- Ballymoney Museum by the Town Hall is open M-Sa 09:00-17:00.
- Joey Dunlop Memorial Garden is on Castle St (the main road) just north of the railway station.
- 1 The Dark Hedges are a half-mile avenue of beech trees lining Bregagh Lane near its junction with Ballinlea Road, a mile west of Armoy. They were planted in 1755 to make a stately approach and vista for Gracehill House, which is now a golf club and hotel. They've folded together to create a tunnel, atmospheric when in leaf, but distinctly gaunt in winter. 250 years have taken a toll and many gaps have appeared, especially after it was the location for "King's Road" in Game of Thrones. The narrow lane became mobbed by traffic, and the extra weight damaged the tree roots, until in 2017 the Council banned traffic from the lane. Many ignore this, but it's best to park 150 yards east off Ballinlea Road. In July 2021 at first sight the car park looks closed for construction, but actually you can get in and out and it's free.
- 2 Derrykeighan Old Church is the ruin of a 17th century church. During repairs, it was found to contain a stone inscribed in elaborate 1st century AD La Tène style. This early Celtic style is rare in Ireland, and how the stone came to be part of the church fabric is unknown.
- Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre southeast edge of Ballymoney on Garryduff Rd is open M-F 09:30-22:00, Sa 09:30-17:30, Su 13:30-17:30.
- 1 Kilrea is a village 10 km south of Ballymoney, west bank of the River Bann in County Londonderry. It has an Aqua Park, golf club and sports centre.
- Motorbike races are held on-road on nearby highways, so expect closures and diversions. Northwest 200 is in May, on the triangle between Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush. Armoy Road Races are late July, with the next on 29-30 July 2022.
- Ballymoney Drama Festival is held over a week in March. Dates for 2023 are TBA.
- Balleymoney Show is an agricultural fair in June, with the next probably on 2-3 June 2023.
- The main store is Tesco on Castle St, open M-Sa 07:00-23:00, Su 13:00-18:00.
- Molly's, 24 Main St BT53 6AL, ☏ . Daily 13:00-21:00. Good friendly eatery, big portions, caters for GF.
- Flash In The Pan, 51 Queens St BT53 6JD, ☏ . M-Th 11:00-00:00, F Sa 11:0-02:00, Su 12:00-00:00. Long established and late-opening chippie, a magnet for the post-pub crowd.
- 1 Manor House, 69 Bridge St, Kilrea BT51 5RR, ☏ . Daily 12:00-20:30. Plush restaurant and event space for weddings and the like.
- Bush Tavern, 15 Market St BT53 6EA, ☏ . M-Th 11:30-00:00, F Sa 11:30-01:00, Su 12:30-22:00. Pub with TV sport and live music.
- Manor Hotel, 69 Main St BT53 6AN, ☏ . Hotel with lively bar right in town centre.
- 1 Ken-Mar House, 20 Queen St BT53 6JB, ☏ . Clean welcoming B&B in town centre. B&B double £60.
- 2 Narrow Gauge B&B, 20 Greengage Lane BT53 6HW, ☏ . Simple friendly B&B near the hospital. B&B double £55.
- 3 Harmony Hill Country House, 64 Balnamore Rd BT53 7PS, ☏ . 18th century mill-owner's house, normally offers B&B but in 2021 only available for self-catering. Sleeps 21 in 8 bedrooms, 6 are en suite.
- Hedges Hotel, 139A Ballinlea Rd, Stranocum BT53 8PX, ☏ . Upscale hotel and golf resort a short walk from Dark Hedges. Closed ufn.
Ballymoney has 4G from all UK carriers. As of July 2022, 5G has not reached this area.
- Portstewart marks the start of the scenic and very touristy Antrim coast, with Portrush, Bushmills, Giant's Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Bridge.
- Ballycastle has ferries to Rathlin Island. Southeast are the Antrim Glens.
- Belfast and Derry are both must-see destinations.