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This pub in the lively market town of Ballycastle was founded in 1766, when the building and surrounding site was leased by an Archibald McDonnell, who traded as a spirit grocer and provider of stabling.
The importance of stabling to the business can be gauged from the fact that accommodation for horses took up three-quarters of the original site.
The property continued to be leased until 1826 when the Catholic Emancipation Act allowed the McDonnell family to buy it.
For generations, the business was known simply as ‘The Store' underlying how this was not primarily a place for drinking - indeed, in the 19th century, spirits were usually bought here by the gallon. The pub didn't officially become known as ‘McDonnell's' or, even more grandly ,' The House of McDonnell', until it was taken over by Tom O'Neill in 1979, after he inherited it from his aunt Mary McDonnell.
Tom points out that the McDonnell clan motto is ‘Toujours Pret' or ‘Always Ready' and that he aims to be always ready to provide the best welcome possible to visitors.
The interior of the pub dates from 1970 and, as a result, is one of fewer than a dozen Northern Irish pubs to be listed in the UK's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors, which is maintained by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
Ballycastle is home to one of Ireland's oldest surviving fairs, The Lammas Fair, which dates from 1606, and which is held on the last Monday and Tuesday in August. An edible sea-weed, known as dulse, and sticks of hard toffee, known as ‘yellow man' are traditionally sold during the fair and both foodstuff are celebrated in the words of a song:
‘Did you treat your Mary Ann
To dulse and yellow man,
At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O?'
In addition, the Northern Lights Festival is held here in May and there is a three-day traditional music fleadh every June.
Extracts from 'The Story of the Irish Pub' by Cian Molloy, supplied with permission of the Liffey Press. For more information on the book check the Liffey Press website.