Belfast Telegraph

Last orders at The Elms as landmark pub closes

By Dave Whelan

Belfast will call last orders on one of its oldest and most iconic student haunts this Saturday night

The Elms bar, on University Road in south Belfast, will close its doors for the last time taking with it memories – both good and bad – spanning generations.

As one of only a few nightspots available in the university area during the Troubles, the bar gained a reputation for catching the student pound long before major city development such as the Odyssey or the Cathedral Quarter.

Eamon Maguire worked there when it was known as The Club in the '70s.

"As a place it was always great craic to be in. It was a student bar but you used to get such a wide range of people coming through the door and a great mixture, he said.

"Because of its location there would have been locals coming in and people getting off at the nearby bus stop and popping in, and they'd have mixed with all the student groups coming down after the meetings in the Union. One that sticks in my mind is a gay and lesbian rights group that used to come every Wednesday night."

Despite its image as a get away free from sectarianism, the bar didn't escape tragedy and on May 28, 1976, a Catholic and a Protestant were killed in a no-warning UDA bomb on the bar.

Eamon's brothers Dennis and Maurice were working in the bar on the night. "The bar was owned by the Agnews and on that night me and Gerard Agnew had taken ourselves off to a fleadh somewhere but my two brothers were working.

"There had been the odd instance of trouble with a group maybe coming up from the Sandy Row but it was never a place like that and security on in the place was always good.

"One bomb was thrown on the flat roof of the bar extension and one was left in the toilets and I remember hearing of the tragedy that people had been killed. One of the bar staff I worked closely with was badly hurt when a bar stool was blown across the room."

Eamon said that after the bombing, people were more wary but it was still a place where politics was left at the door. "It may have been sold as a typical student pub but it wasn't – it was a welcoming place for everyone because there was no expectation."

The bar will be recognised as one of the major tragedies of the fall of the Botanic Inns empire which went into administration earlier this year.

One former customer Ciaran McCarney reminisced about nights out in The Elms in the late '80s and early '90s.

"We would have gone to the bar a few times a week, it was within spitting distance of the Union and to be honest you couldn't sit in the Union everyday," he joked.

"Thursday nights were a big deal, a band called Blackthorn used to play a folk night and everyone would pile out of the Union and down to there – that was mad bouts of craic.

"It's disappointing to hear that it's closing so soon. I'd have liked to have organised to get some friends together and go and reminisce about some of the good times we had there."

The bar and its off-licence, named as The Globe for a period before reverting to its original Elms name, is now set to be taken over by Tesco which is reported to have bought it for £1.15m.

Former pubs with existing liquor licences are ideal locations for grocery stores with the capacity to sell alcohol.

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