Belfast Telegraph

PUB OF THE YEAR COMPETITION: McCuaig's Bar

WELL isle be! Rathlin Island is one place I wouldn’t mind being cast away on — thanks to its lovely local pub.

NI Pub of the Year

Having never been to this isolated island off the Co Antrim coast, I was pleasantly surprised by its rugged landscape and tranquil beauty.

Just six miles long and one mile wide, this L-shaped island is home to around 100 residents — and one of the most remote pubs in Northern Ireland.McCuaig’s pub has been locally owned for hundreds of years but is now up for sale (offers are in excess of the original asking price of £500,000) and this could see it go to someone from outside the close-knit community.

Bizarrely McCuaig’s found itself in the national news headlines earlier this month — they came to the rescue after a right royal rumpus.The Earl and Countess of Wessex enjoyed sausage rolls and vol-au-vents in the pub after the first ever official royal visit to Rathlin Island descended into farce.Prince Edward and his wife Sophie had been due to eat at the Manor House restaurant during their brief trip to the remote island.

But the VIP couple were forced to rethink their lunch plans and take their entourage to McCuaig’s when the award-winning restaurant refused the booking.

And, as I learnt on my short visit, the locals are very welcoming to visitors from the minute you arrive.

We stepped off the ferry and walked two minutes along the port to McCuaig’s. I’d rung ahead earlier in the week and the staff couldn’t have been nicer and even welcomed us with a cuppa at the door.

When they spotted a minibus driving down the road they told me to run out and try and catch Bertie (Bertie Currie has co-owned the bar since 1992, the other co-owner is Peter McCurdy).

“It is the focal point of the island,” he said.

“You never get any trouble either. When tourists come here, they know they’ve to get the ferry back across that sea, so they know they can’t play up and to be honest the people who come here for a wee holiday are here to enjoy the craic and not annoy anyone.”

When asked about the prospect of the pub going to an outsider, Bertie is very philosophical. He said: “There are so few folk left on the island that it’ll have to go to an outsider, but they’ll be warmly welcomed because we need newcomers to settle here to sustain island life.

“We thought it was a good time to sell when it is going well and there is a lot of development going on on the island. And with the new, upgraded ferry service the potential is there for a new owner to expand.”

Ciaran McCurdy, 22, works in McCuaig’s and told Sunday Life he loves Rathlin and doesn’t want to leave.

He said: “I was born and reared here. I may leave to go travelling for a bit but would definitely return. It’s a great place to live and a brilliant place to bring up children.”

And Norman Lee, 27, who also works in McCuaig’s, said he’d love to have the money to buy the bar. He said: “It has so much potential and would be an ideal opportunity for a young entrepreneur. If I was in a position to buy it, I’d make slight changes — modernise it a bit but still keeping it fairly traditional.”

Rathlin is a very tranquil place. There’s a boathouse in the harbour — a short walk around to Mill Bay and you’ll see a colony of seals lounging on the shore. Despite the recession, estate agent Sean McIlroy said there has been significant interest in the bar. “It has been steady, coming from all over Ireland,” he said.

“It’s the only licensed premises on the island, so it’s a social meeting place and the hub of the community.”

Nicola Knight and her nine-year-old son William had travelled across for a day visit to Rathlin and Nicola told Sunday Life she thought it would be a great place to bring up children. She said: “It’s a lovely, quiet place and seems like a very safe community. It would be a good pub for a family to run.”

Bonnie Grobler, 18, from Larne added: “I love this pub. It has such a brilliant atmosphere, it’s so friendly and all the staff are great. Some nights you’re here and people just burst into song — it’s excellent.”

And Joe McQuilkin is a retired farmer on the island. He's also convinced that an outsider will buy the pub.He explained: “If they keep it going in the traditional way, I’d have no problems. We need outsiders and couldn’t survive without the tourists. Whoever buys it — good luck to them.”

My sentiments exactly!

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