Belfast Telegraph

The hidden history of Belfast pubs

By Gary Law

For over four centuries, public houses have played a central role in the social life of Belfast. Gary Law, the author of a new book on the subject,digs up some curious details about the city's pubs past and present

For over four centuries, public houses have played a central role in the social life of Belfast. Gary Law, the author of a new book on the subject,digs up some curious details about the city's pubs past and present

fascinating facts from the hidden history of Belfast pubs

BELFAST'S first recorded pub was called Sir Moses' Cellars, which was named after Moses Hill, a young officer from Devonshire who came to Ireland in 1573 in the service of the Earl of Essex. The inn provided accommodation and refreshment for travellers and its comfortable lodgings were singled out for mention in a report by the Plantation Commissioners in 1611.

BOISTERIOUS behaviour associated with Belfast's taverns was creating such a public nuisance in 1665 that town officials ordered the banning of all drink sales after 9pm.

IN the middle of the 18th century, one in every 17 houses in Belfast was occupied by a publican or spirit dealer.

THE Crown Tavern, which once stood in Crown Entry, off Ann Street, is reputed to be the birthplace of the Society of United Irishmen, whose agitation led to the bloody rebellion of 1798. It's not known if the members of Ireland's first republican society appreciated the irony of meeting at an address with so many crowns in the title.

ONE of the most prominent leaders of the 1798 rebellion, Henry Joy McCracken, spent his last night in the Donegall Arms Hotel at Castle Junction before being hanged at nearby Corn Market. The hotel, at one time a celebrated meeting place for Belfast gentry, was eventually swallowed up by Robb's department store and the site is now occupied by Donegall Arcade.

THERE were 12 pubs and four spirit dealers operating in North Street in 1819. Today only one pub remains - the Deer's Head, which has been trading there since 1885.

DRINKERS in 1820s Belfast could be forgiven for being confused about the location of a pub called The Wheatsheaf. There were in fact four taverns all bearing that name. There were Wheatsheafs situtated in May Street, Ann Street, North Street and Ballyhackamore.

THE Stag's Head at the corner of Rosemary Street and North Street once doubled as an undertakers. The pub, which disappeared in the early years of the 20th century, was run by a publican named Dan Miskelly in the 1800s and also served as a terminus for coaches from Derry and north Antrim.

THE first dispenser of drink on the site of the well-known Kitchen Bar in Victoria Square was probably William Low, who in the middle of the 19th century combined the occupation of spirit merchant with that of dealer in cement and alabaster.

THE Crown Liquor Saloon, Robinson's Bar and The Beaten Docket are all former hotels, built to serve the passengers who disembarked at the railway terminus in Great Victoria Street. The Crown was formerly the Ulster Railway Hotel, Robinson's was called the Dublin and Armagh Hotel, and The Beaten Docket was the Downshire Arms Hotel. For the first 50 years of the 20th century, Miss Rogan's Temperance Hotel was sandwiched in between Robinson's and the Crown, where the Crown Bookmakers now stands.

THE Eglantine Inn on the Malone Road was designed in 1898 by the architects who had created the Crown Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street 13 years previously.

THE long-disappeared Klondyke Bar in Sandy Row was said to have been named by a German immigrant who bought the pub with the proceeds of his gold digging exploits in the California gold rush of 1897.

THE Braithwaite and McCann chain of pubs grew from the purchase of the Hatfield House bar on the Ormeau Road in the 1880s. By 1899 the partnership had purchased the Red Lion, also on the Ormeau Road, and the Garrick in Chichester Street. Other pubs to be owned by the chain included the Store Bar in Church Lane and the Ulster Tavern in Chichester Street. At its height, the partnership owned 15 bars around the city.

WHITE'S Tavern in Winecellar Entry had its own telephone in 1899, when it was a spirit merchant's premises run by Hugh White. The number of the establishment was Belfast 526 and its telegraph address was 'Butts' - inspired by the name given to wine casks.

THE Centre Half Bar off the Falls Road earned its name from the licensee Mickey Hamill, a legendary Belfast Celtic player who during the course of his soccer career turned out for Glasgow Celtic, Manchester United and Manchester City and also captained the Northern Ireland team to their first Home International championship win in 1914. The Hamill family also owned the Hamill Hotel in Great Victoria Street, which later became The Beaten Docket.

THE Bank of Ireland on the corner of North Street and Royal Avenue stands on the site of a once-popular city centre bar called the Gin Palace, which survived until the early 1920s.

THE five feet-high grey elephant which once stood above the door of the Elephant Bar in North Street is still visible today ... above a former off-licence.

THE Electric Bar in Bridge End is said to have been named in honour of the long overdue eletrification of Belfast's tram system in 1905. The bar later achieved fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s as The Talk of the Town, which staged top international cabaret shows compered by Frank Carson and Roy Walker.

THE Hercules Bar in Castle Street is named after Hercules Langford, a prominent Belfast citizen whose family also gave their name to Langford Lodge on the shores of Lough Neagh. Royal Avenue was formerly known as Hercules Street.

THE Junction Arms in east Belfast was better known to its regulars as Holy Joe's - so called because the owner refused to serve shipyard workers at the end of a shift until they had first gone home and handed over their wages to their wives. It's said that Holy Joe - real name Joseph P. O'Connor, who owned the bar from 1936 until the mid 1960s - was so conscientious about his customers' welfare because he had at one time trained for the priesthood.

KELLY'S Cellars in Bank Street is generally reckoned to be the oldest continually-run bar in Belfast. It claims a history stretching back to 1720 and among its most famous customers were Stanley Matthews and Bill Shankly from the world of soccer, boxers Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson, Ben Hur star Stephen Boyd, poet Louis McNeice and artist William Conor.

THE Long Bar, a once-popular Leeson Street pub no longer trading, was owned at one time by John Leneghan, the father of Irish President Mary McAleese. And McEntee's Bar in King Street, also no longer there, was owned by the family of Sean McEntee, a veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising who went on to hold ministerial posts in the Republic's government.

THE counter in McGlade's Bar in Donegall Street, stretching 57 feet, was said to be the longest in the British Isles. The McGlades owned many premises in Belfast, including the Hercules Bar, the Queen's Cafe in Queen's Arcade, Tower Buildings at Peter's Hill, the Grand Metropole Hotel at the junction of Donegall Street and York Street, and the Bambridge Hotel, which was destroyed in the blitz of May 1941.

McHUGH'S Bar in Queen's Square was once owned by the father of former West Belfast MP, Dr Joe Hendron. The bar is said to be housed in one of the oldest buildings in Belfast, dating back to the early 1700s.

THE Washington Bar in Howard Street - now Shenanagan's - commanded a record price for a pub anywhere in Ireland when it was sold in 1947 for £36,000. The vendor, a Thomas McGeough from Co Monaghan, had paid just £4,500 for it in 1912.

THE Maritime Hotel in College Square North, where Van Morrison and Them first performed in public in the 1960s, was a former Royal Irish Constabulary barracks.

THE Errigle Inn on the Ormeau Road was the first pub in Belfast to be granted an entertainments licence by the city council. The application, made in 1967, was opposed by two organisations - the Northern Ireland Ballrooms' Association believed entertainment in bars would be bad for their business, and as a result were assured by the council that "no dancing would be allowed in public houses", while the Ulster Christian Council for Temperance and Social Welfare based its objection solely on moral grounds.

THE Belfast Harp Society was formed on St Patrick's Day 1808 in Lynn's Hotel in Castle Place, which later became a pub known as the White Cross Inn. In a different musical vein, the Belfast Jazz Society was founded in the Jubilee Bar in Cromac Street in 1966.

PATRONS of the Spanish Rooms in Divis Street downed an average of 7,200 pints of cider every week in the early 1970s, making the bar the single biggest seller of cider in the British Isles.

A SECRET tunnel dating back to the late 18th century is supposed to have connected the Star and Garter pub in Rosemary Street with the house of Belfast's Provost Marshal in High Street. The pub was still trading as recently as the late 1970s.

Historic Pubs of Belfast, by Gary Law, is published by Appletree Press, price £4.99


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