Northern Ireland

Liam Neeson makes surprise school visit to Slemish College in Ballymena

Liam Neeson Image copyright Slemish College
Image caption Liam Neeson with Slemish College principal Dr Paul McHugh, head boy Conor Lunnen and head girl Abigail Fletcher

Hollywood star Liam Neeson has made a special appearance at a school in County Antrim as it celebrated its 20th anniversary.

The Ballymena-born actor took a break from his day job by visiting Slemish College as it marked its birthday.

The Star Wars and Batman Begins star posed for photographs, signed autographs and chatted with students for about two hours.

A senior teacher said Neeson was an "absolute gentleman".

"He seemed to really enjoy the visit," said Grace Anderson, a senior leader at Slemish College.

"He was lovely throughout and could not have been kinder or more accommodating to the pupils.

"He was very generous in how much time he gave to the students. His commitment was totally to them."

Neeson watched performances by the school's drama department, spoke about film and acting with media studies students and had celebratory tea and cake with the school's sixth form.

Image copyright Slemish College
Image caption Liam Neeson spent two hours at the school on Monday

Slemish College is an integrated school, meaning it brings together children and staff from Catholic, Protestant and other traditions.

Ms Anderson said that Neeson had a long association with the school.

"When we formed 20 years ago, Mr Neeson was one of the initial celebrities who wrote to us to extend best wishes and add his backing to an integrated school in his home town," she said.

"He's been a supporter of integrated education in Ballymena and spoke at length about his interest in integrated education."

About 7% of children in Northern Ireland are educated in integrated schools at 64 integrated schools.

The schools enrol approximately equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds.

Ms Anderson added that the school only found out last week that the star would be able to attend the celebration.

"We issued the invitation in the New Year, and were optimistic he could find the time. When Liam heard about the event, I think he was keen to come," she said.

"He really could not have given more time to the pupils - as you can imagine, there was no shortage of kids hoping to get a photo with him."