PUB OF THE YEAR: The Shepherd's Rest, Sixtowns
The Shepherd’s Rest in Sixtowns, just outside Draperstown, Co Derry, is the quintessential little Irish pub, or so you would think until you take a tour of this deceptive rural watering hole.
While its front lounge bar is everything you’d expect from an olde worlde drinking establishment — turf fire, heavy wooden makeup, photos that tell stories from a bygone era, and even a classic red telephone box — there’s much more than meets the eye.
There’s a myriad of function rooms to the back and upstairs of this venue, a spacious barbecue area and even an expansive campsite with a tiny log-fire cottage that give this family-run pub an extra and rather unique charm.
Owned by the Doyle family since the 1930s and taken over by the current proprietors Michael and Bernadette Doyle in the mid-’60s, what was a simple rustic bar is now a destination in its own right not just for locals, but international travellers.
Michael and Bernadette have tapped into the camping market and made use of their extensive land that overlooks the Sperrins’ countryside here.
They opened a campsite facility around Easter and have been attracting visitors from all over Europe in just a matter of months. Colin Doyle and his mother Bernadette took Sunday Life on a tour of this charming venue and the more we saw, the more we loved it.
Counting Seamus Heaney and the discoverer of nearby Beaghmore Stone Circles as regular punters, Colin and Bernadette are proud of their family business.
“Seamus left a comment in our visitor book saying, ‘The Rest is the best’,” began Colin on this rather prestigious customer. “His family have been coming here for many years now,” he added.
Bernadette believes it’s the family values that make this pub a success.
“It’s run by a family and our customers are all families from in and around the local area,” she said. “Everyone in the family plays a role.”
This is true, many Doyle members from all ages are very hands-on in the running of the pub and they do everything from pulling a pint for a local farmer to catering for upwards of 200 wedding guests or visiting organisations. They are also an integral part of the banter here having built up a close bond with the locals who span generations.
When we were there we came across some of the most unique characters who couldn’t praise the Doyles and their fantastic pub enough.
Patrick Campbell, a local farmer, called in for a pint and told us how The Shepherd’s Rest was not just his regular, but a part of his history.
“I’ve been coming here for a long, long time. It’s a great spot to meet up and talk with local farmers, hear all the gossip and exchange harvest prices and see who got the biggest amounts,” he said.
“I used to come up and use the phone here in the late ’70s to ring my girlfriend and the owners used to joke if you wanted to use the phone, do so before me because I’d be on for hours,” continued Paddy, who later married that lady he spent many nights on the phone with.
Sean Murray, another local, added: “I’ve been coming here years for the local banter and craic.
“You hear some amazing stories in this pub and you walk away not knowing what was true or what was made up!
“Now the campsite has opened, we have a load of new, foreign visitors coming in and they too join in with the craic,” he said.
While very much a community pub, The Shepherd’s Rest is always ready to welcome outsiders, from campers to function guests and more.Joe Bradley, another frequent punter, said: “You know at any one time everyone in this entire bar could be part of the same conversation. It’s just such a warm, welcoming place and everyone feels at home.
“I’ve been in an out of this pub since the late ’50s, and I even worked in bars in Portstewart, but I still came back here for the craic. You can just sit with a pint and say nothing and listen to the stories being told.”
Sarah Bradley and Clodagh Campbell are among this pub’s youngest customers. Sarah said: “My friends and I love it here. We’ll always come in before heading anywhere else. It’s like our meeting place.”
Clodagh, a local school teacher, just loves everything about The Shepherd’s Rest: “I’m also in the local choir and we have all of our big functions here. They do amazing barbecues for events and the atmosphere is just something else.
“No matter who you are, you’ll always be sure to get a lift home too,” she laughed. “We’re from Sixtowns and we’re so proud of this pub.”