Sunday Life

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Pub of Ulster Pub of the Year Awards: Kevin O'Brien is well used to golfers on the Rory McIlroy trail at The Maypole Bar


Kevin O'Brien with Ivan Little at The Maypole Bar, Holywood, Co Down.

Kevin O'Brien with Ivan Little at The Maypole Bar, Holywood, Co Down.


Kevin O'Brien at The Maypole Bar, Holywood, Co Down.

Kevin O'Brien at The Maypole Bar, Holywood, Co Down.


Movie star Sean Bean with Kevin O'Brien in The Maypole Bar, Holywood, Co Down.

Movie star Sean Bean with Kevin O'Brien in The Maypole Bar, Holywood, Co Down.



Kevin O'Brien with Ivan Little at The Maypole Bar, Holywood, Co Down.

Holywood bar manager Kevin O'Brien is expecting to welcome even more curious golf 'tourists' to his historic pub after Rory McIlroy used it as the backdrop for his latest internet adventure.

The Maypole Bar, which dates back to 1857, was the location for the filming of an hilarious interview earlier this month with Holywood's sporting hero by comedian Shane Todd.

Ever since McIlroy took the game by storm, there's been a steady stream of golf enthusiasts coming to Holywood on the Rory trail and Kevin's grown accustomed to them dropping into the pub to seek out information and to pester him for anecdotes.

The numbers are sure to increase after Rory was recorded by the cameras in the upstairs lounge at the Maypole talking to Todd's spoof alter ego Mike McGoldrick about his love life, his wealth, his Florida mansion and the prospect of independence for North Down!

Talking to Kevin in the same lounge, at the same table, the popular bar manager told me that in the immediate aftermath of Rory's most high profile victories, journalists from the Republic have regularly popped into the Maypole on the hunt for a story rather than for the stout for which the bar is famous.

And therein lies another tale. For the boys who know their black stuff reckon the Maypole's Guinness is among the finest they'll sink anywhere.

"I think it's because of all the care we take with it that the Maypole has a reputation across Northern Ireland and farther afield for its Guinness," said Kevin

Kevin, who has just made the final for this year's Best Barperson gong at the annual Pubs of Ulster Pub of the Year awards, has been managing the Maypole for nine years.

Kevin loves his unique little town centre bar which is known far and wide as Ned's.

That name comes from an ancestor of Brian Carty who owns the pub which - funnily enough - stands right beside Holywood's 84 foot high Maypole.

Whatever it's called, it's a pub apart. Kevin said: "When I first started here, the owner told me to treat it like my living room. We don't have door staff outside the pub, but there's no nonsense here."

Well dare a drunk stagger into the pub and try to order a drink from Kevin or his staff who will give them short shrift and they also take a dim view of anyone who breaks the house rules that forbid things like putting feet on the bar furniture.

Kevin, who's had Game of Thrones stars like Sean Bean in the Maypole, can't put his finger on exactly why the pub is so successful, drawing its mostly mature clientele from every strata of society.

But he says: "Ned's definitely has an atmosphere all of its own.

"And we have some real characters here who call parts of the place Dead Man's Corner and God's Waiting Room. And the ones who sit at the counter are known as the bar dwellers.

"But in essence it's just a traditional pub where we don't do shots or cocktails but we sell much, much more Guinness than many other establishments in the town.

"We don't have Sky TV on the box, but we still follow Rory's career, especially when competitions like the British Open are shown on the BBC."

Another little Maypole idiosyncrasy is that it still operates the old licensing hours.

"We don't have very many late nights," said Kevin. "And on Sundays we close in the middle of the afternoon for a few hours."

Another throwback to a bygone era is the table service, which is still part and parcel of the Maypole's charm.

"A lot of English people who order at the bar can't believe it when we tell them to take a seat and we will bring their drinks over to them.

"They don't get that on the mainland," said Kevin, who is Holywood born and bred and used to play football at university before he was a Gaelic football referee for four years.

His real passions however are Leeds United and the Dallas Cowboys, whom he's going to see at Wembley soon.

Kevin is also a member of Holywood Golf Club but insists that while he plays the same course that Rory used to, he's not in the same league.

Kevin knows the life of a barperson is tough but he has no complaints. "It's a trade you either fall into and love or you don't.

"Sometimes I think it picks you. There used to be horrible ethos out there that you would go into hospitality until you got a proper job but I think it's a good career.

"The hours are unsociable but I'm used to them now," said Kevin, who was surprised but flattered to learn that he'd been nominated by his customers for the Best Barperson award.