Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Fate of Belfast pub's elephant remains a mystery

The Elephant House back in its glory days, when Nellie stood proud on her perch
The Elephant House back in its glory days, when Nellie stood proud on her perch

I wonder if the schoolboy newspaper-seller standing in the doorway of the lamented Elephant bar can help solve one of Belfast's intriguing mysteries: whatever happened to Nellie the elephant, who vanished from her perch above the mantel sometime in the 1990s just before the long-closed pub was demolished?

There has been a lot of speculation about the whereabouts of this much-loved elephant down the years, which I bring back to life today in this vintage picture. If the paperboy is still around, perhaps he will get in touch.

But not even historian Joe Graham, who produces the Rushlink magazine and who knows most things about the Smithfield district, where Nellie had her time over the bar at the corner of Upper North Street and Winetavern Street, can say where she is.

It has always been assumed that this monument that welcomed drinkers for many years to the little hostelry was female. She was definitely made of Co Down granite with pieces of wood for the finer bits of her anatomy. I could name a few journalists who, intent on a quick pint without getting involved with colleagues in either the Brown Horse, which used to be in Library Street, or McGlade's, in Upper Donegall Street, slipped away to empty their glasses quickly in the shadow of Nellie and get back to their exclusives.

The Elephant House (to give the place its proper name) dominated its corner right from the 1880s, when Upper North Street was widened.

Regulars thought it would be there forever – especially when an off-licence was added.

The manageress of the bar's lounge was a stern lady called Molly, who took no nonsense and kept the rowdies out.

One of her favourite customers was a character called Harry McGarrigle, who called in most days to gossip and drink his Guinness.

I've a notion that the Elephant bar was serenaded in the lyrics of a song which I may have heard being sung by a group called The Glen Folk Four.

However, there are no copies of a recording of the ditty in Billy McBurney's Premier Record Shop, a few hundred yards away in the heart of Smithfield.

If you have any information about where Nellie is hanging out, get in touch.

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