The Bushmills Inn, the award winning Causeway Coast hotel and restaurant, is to be sold after 15 years under the stewardship of Alan and Zoe Dunlop, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Final negotiations on the sale, reportedly to a Belfast-based entity, are taking place this week, but no further details have emerged on the new owner or price.
General Manager Alan Walls said he could not comment on the imminent sale, until tomorrow. But he did not dispute the assertion it is being sold and to a Belfast buyer.
The AA 4 Star hotel and restaurant was opened in 1987 as a ten bedroom establishment in the centre of Bushmills. After many years under the ownership of Roy Bolton, it was taken over by the Dunlops in 2007.
But two multi-million pound refits turned the old coach house, which dates back to the 17th century, into the 41 bedroom hotel it is today. It includes an AA Rosette restaurant, a cinema, conference facilities, the courtyard patio and even a helipad.
Bushmills Hotels Ltd, the owner of the establishment, fully controlled by Alan and Zoe Dunlop, reported fixed assets of £2.4m in its latest unaudited financial statements filed last week.
It also reported £1.8m cash in hand and in the bank, with £1.7m in debts, for the up to the end of December. Total equity in the company amounts to over £2.5m. The company employs approximately 60 people.
The building's story began in the early 1600s when it opened as old coaching inn. The main part of the restaurant use to be the coach house and stables of the original inn. It is the oldest part of the building.
According to the Bushmills Inn website, the coach house likely dates back to close to when ‘Old Bushmills’ was granted the world’s first ever licence to distill whiskey in 1608.
"The main hotel however was built in the 1820s as part of a major redevelopment of the town by the local landowner Sir Frances Workman Macnaghten," the company reported.
"he Inn quickly became a haven for saddle sore visitors on their way to the Giant’s Causeway - it was here they would stop to sample the whiskey that made this charming village internationally famous. In the early 1890s, and with the arrival of a tram link to the Giant’s Causeway, the Hotel fell into decline."
From the late 19th century into the 20th, the inn was used as a boarding house, a private dwelling, a factory for making bicycles and, at least in part, a home for chickens.
The Dunlops took over the building in 1987, added 22 bedrooms ten years later following the acquisition of the 'Mill House' on the banks of the River Bush.
Further development in 2009 saw the hotel grow to 41 bedrooms and luxurious suites. It also included a new courtyard garden, the conference facilities, the Still Room Cinema and a restaurant extension.
It was named Northern Ireland Tourism Hotel of the Year in 2017.