THE Irish are known for being a mad bunch of friendly characters. Their all-dancing, all-drinking stereotype makes Ireland a popular tourist destination for many travellers.
On average, six million tourists visit Ireland each year. Ask any traveller and they will tell you that when heading to the Emerald Isle, they are searching for a little bit of stereotypic Irish culture. They want Guinness, leprechauns, Irish dancing and foot-thumping Irish music. They want to head to the pub.
And boy does Ireland have some real undiscovered gems.
Hayes Pub, Killea, Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, Ireland. Ph: +353 (0)51 383657
AFFECTIONATELY known by locals as “Aggies”, this pub has a history nearly as colourful as its exterior. Set on a hill next to a ruined church from AD700, this bright yellow, thatched roof establishment has been owned and run by the same family for 300 three hundred years. And, more impressively, says Pat Flynn, nephew of the current owner, Hayes has been “run by women for the last three generations”. But in all its years, Aggie was the one who really created the atmosphere at Hayes. She was quite well known for her strict bar rules; including, so I’m told, a rule that she wouldn’t serve women at the bar. There’s plenty more on the list, but they are best kept for when you visit there yourself. The current owners are only too happy to share stories about the famous Aggie.
The pub has become increasingly well known to tourists lately, thanks to Cosmos tours, who offer a traditional Irish pub night there as part of their Irish Explorer tour. Managing Director of Cosmos Tours, Tristram Yarde-Leavett, says that, “On our tours we try to bring our guests to the “real Ireland” and Hayes pub in Dunmore East fits the bill.” It’s hard to argue with the experts.
Durty Nelly’s, Bunratt, Co. Clare, Ireland. Ph: +353 61 364-861, www.durtynellys.ie
WITH a name that conjures up all sorts of questions about its past, you’ll find that Durty Nelly’s is one of Ireland’s favourite pubs. As yet, it is largely undiscovered by tourists and has retained its Irish character. Established in 1620 by a young woman who was given the affectionate nickname of Durty Nelly, this pub’s history sounds a little like a story you’d hear someone telling after a few too many pints of Guinness. Apparently Nelly was a woman who was blessed with attributes that made her appealing to the opposite sex. She was the keeper of a toll-bridge over the river Owengarney and the tale goes that one night she dreamt up a concoction that had many healing properties. The story is best told over a Guinness (or three by the time you’ve heard it all) but the long and the short of it is that Nelly wanted to be famous, and so she became. With a mystical history like this as a backdrop, the authenticity of the place continues today, with live traditional Irish music performed seven days a week. And, as if you couldn’t get more stereotypically Irish, at Durty Nelly’s you can pour your own pint of Guinnessget your photo taken and boast to friends back home that you really mixed it with the locals.
Dobbin’s Inn Hotel
Dobbin’s Inn Hotel, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. Ph: 028 93351905, www.dobbinsinnhotel.co.uk
KINGS, knights, secret passages and ghosts are just some of the stories involved in the history of arguably Ireland’s oldest pub. Upon hearing the history of this place, it is obvious that it has never seen a dull moment. Over the years, it has been a castle, a townhouse, a gaol, an armoury and now a hotel. Maureen and Derek Fallis have owned the pub since 1978 and are more than happy to share a bit of its colourful history with visitors. One such story is the sad 17th century tale of Maud and Button-cap, the resident ghosts. It’s a lovers tale that will make you weep into your Guinness. It is said that Hugh Dobbin’s young wife fell in love with a Captain stationed at the barracks while her husband was away fighting. When he returned he discovered their affair and “put them to death with his sword”. After a story like that, you’re going to need some comfort food, and the Dobbin’s Inn Hotel is quickly becoming known for its great food. In an article for the Belfast Telegraph recently, journalist Lauren Mulvenny boldly proclaimed it to be her “new ‘favourite’ eatery in Carrickfergus”. She goes on to say that this is due to its “friendly staff, buzzing atmosphere and great pub-style grub”.
Grace Neills, Donaghadee, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. Ph: 028 9188 4595, www.graceneills.com
Paranormal Ulster, www.paranormalulster.com
OFFICIALLY named by the Guinness World Records as Ireland’s Oldest Pub, this popular establishment has a ghost story of its own. It first opened its doors to smugglers and pirates in 1611 under the name The King’s Arms. It wasn’t until the lively Grace Neill took over that the history really started to set in. She was famous for her hospitality, which included kissing every patron that came through the door. People say that since her death in 1916, aged 98, she has been haunting the establishment. Many of the staff claim to have witnessed unexplained events, such as appliances switching themselves on and off and, of course, the best of them all- the unexplained creaking floorboards.
In 2008, to prove the existence of a ghost, paranormal investigator Mike Hirons, of Paranormal Ulster, held a séance at the establishment. With several staff members present, he claims to have made contact with the ghost of Grace Neill. “...we began to get knocks from the table. As the spirit was showing us intelligent response by doing this, we asked for one knock for yes and two for no. This was the spirit of Grace Neill and she was so happy to make contact with us. She answered many of our questions and passed on a few comments to the staff which they found amusing.” At the time, bar staff told local journalist Aaron Tinney: that, “When Mike asked for Grace, nothing happened to start with. But when the knocking started, all of us standing around were like, ‘Oh my God’.” It was also discovered that Grace Neill was not the only ghost present in the building. During the séance, Mike Hirons’ colleague Anne McKinstrey helped make contact with a male ghost. “The temperature in the room was getting very cold. Mike felt a man’s presence in the room and he was wearing what looked like a white shirt.” Anne also sensed this and believes that the garment he was wearing, “was a white shroud and his body had been laid out in that room. We believe he had been a casualty of the Battle of the Copeland’s.” The paranormal activity of the establishment has even attracted famous TV medium Derek Acorah to meet Grace Neill for himself. As if the attraction couldn’t get any better, Grace Neills was named the 2009 Food Pub of the Year for Northern Ireland.
If there’s one thing Ireland does well, its pubs with character. Tourists walking in to just about any pub will be welcomed like long lost friends. It’s the perfect atmosphere to enjoy a Guinness sit back and relax. Just watch out for stray ghosts.