Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Ulster roots of Sir Ian McKellen

McKellen as Gandalf

Film and theatre legend Sir Ian McKellen has compared his great-great grandfather to Ian Paisley.

The multi award-winning star of the stage aswell as movies such as Lord Of The Rings, Richard III,  X-Men & the Hobbit revealed his family tree can be traced back to the Ulster town of Ballymena, Co Antrim.

Sir Ian, who delivered the Chancellor's Lecture at the University of Ulster where he was conferred an honorary degree, said his Northern Irish roots shaped much of his childhood.

"In puritanical Ballymena, it is said the park keepers used to tie up the children's swings on Sundays to keep the Lord's Day holy," Sir Ian said. "In the same spirit, at our home when I was a kid, we weren't allowed to play cards, nor board games on Sundays. No snap, Ludo or even jigsaws. Nor was I ever allowed to have a Wall's ice-cream, before or after Sunday school."

Sir Ian paid tribute to the north Antrim town, which he said had nurtured the "greatly passionate" Northern Irish performers Liam Neeson, James Nesbitt and former Stormont first minister Dr Paisley.

 "My great-great grandfather James McKellen who, like his townsman Dr Paisley, was a strict, evangelical Protestant minister in Ballymena," Sir Ian said.

The name McKellen is most possibly derived from Anglo-Norman settlers around the Scottish - English border and today is most commonly found in Northern England. It's likely Sir Ian McKellen's ancestors came to Ulster during the plantations via the Border Reivers.

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