The Crosskeys Inn – Ireland’s Oldest Thatched Public House

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Front of Crosskeys
Front of Crosskeys

Preface

Those following our Belfast Entries posts know that we cover the people, places, products and stories of interest to us and hopefully our readers. Most of our articles are historical in nature – highlighting topics that may be of interest to locals and visitors alike. The Crosskeys Inn is a historical building and we cover our recent visit there. This is not a promoted post or advertisement.

How Old is the Crosskeys Inn?

Anyone looking for an authentic traditional Irish pub experience should make a point of visiting the Crosskeys Inn – the oldest thatched public house in Ireland. The building has been standing since the seventeenth century and is a favourite with tourists and locals alike.

In 2010 an archaeological team from Queens University Belfast completed their dendrochonological examination of the beams of the Crosskey Inn. The results prove that the building pre-dates 1654.

Visiting the Crosskeys Inn

The one storey, white-washed building with its distinctive yellow door and name-sake crossed keys sign is situated at the crossroads of the Grange and Crosskeys Roads. It is located in the townland of Ardnaglass in County Antrim. Ardnaglass is in the civil parish of the Grange of Ballyscullion and in the barony of Toome,Upper. In Irish Ard na Glaise means the ‘hill of the streams’. The nearest town is Toomebridge on the north-east shore of Lough Neagh.

Opening soon
Opening soon

The hostelry is a collection of cosy rooms, some of which would have provided accommodation for the publican and his family in earlier times. The windows are small, as was the custom, to preserve heat. The doorways and ceilings are low, but well sign-posted! The smell of a smoky turf fire is both welcoming and evocative.

Timeless comfort
Timeless comfort

Each room is jam packed with pub ephemera, photos and farming implements from years gone by. Oil lamps jostle for space with blue and white crockery, and figurines with antique pistols. From the ceiling dangle lanterns and perhaps the odd skeleton!

Take a seat at the fire
Take a seat at the fire
Friendly skeleton
Friendly skeleton
Wall Map
Wall Map

The rough stone wall are adorned with old maps, sepia photographs of past patrons, mirrors, clocks and declarations including one from the Commissioners of National Education detailing what to do if your potato crop was struck by the dreaded blight.

Potato Blight Notice
Potato Blight Notice
The great Mary Ann McCracken
The great Mary Ann McCracken

Why “Crosskeys”?

It is thought the inn acquired its unusual name from the crossed keys of the Papal insignia.

Crosskeys Exterior
Crosskeys Exterior

In the twelfth century the area of the Grange of Ballyscullion was under the auspices of the Abbey of St Peter and St Paul. This establishment in the city of Armagh was an ancient monastic settlement. It is generally believed that the Book of Armagh, produced in 807AD, was written by the scribe Ferdomnach at this site. By 1126 the abbey belonged to the Augustinian order, along with holdings of 2,000 acres of land. The abbey was destroyed in the sixteenth century during the Reformation.

Crosskeys over the Centuries

In the early nineteenth century the Crosskeys Inn was a coaching stop on the Belfast to Cookstown and Belfast to Kilrea routes. These coaching inns provided a welcome break for both passengers and horses.

In 1857 the building is listed as a post-office. It was not unusual in those days for public houses to supply different functions, with a post-office and grocery in one room and spirits sold in another.

Over the years a number of families have run this popular hostelry including in 1771 the Misses Boyd, in 1837 Patrick McAlane and in 1858 George Neeson. For more information see the Crosskeys website https://crosskeys-inn.com.

Traditional Music

The Crosskeys Inn is famous for its traditional music sessions that can last well into the wee hours. Fiddle, accordion, boran and flute all can be heard in the inn on many an evening.

Local amateur musicians and members of Altan, De Danann and the Boys of the Lough and other well-known Celtic folk groups have raised the rafters here.

This is rural pub life as it has been lived and loved for many a generation.

Seating at piano
Seating at piano

Story-Telling

Another aspect of traditional Irish life that thrives in the Crosskeys Inn is the art of story-telling.

In past times a story-teller was a revered member of the community. He or she was respected not just for their skill in telling a good yarn but also for preserving the old stories, histories and ways for future generations. What better way to pass a winter evening than sitting in front of a roaring fire with friends (and a few drinks) captivated by an enthralling tale!

February 2000 – Disaster Strikes

On 22nd February 2000, the Crosskeys Inn was badly damaged by fire, caused by an electrical fault. Most of the thatched roof was destroyed and smoke and water damage was extensive. However, the then owner, Mr Eamonn Stinson, promised the historic inn would reopen as soon as possible.

“Mr Stinson said people connected with traditional music had been in touch with him from across the world following the blaze…He said traditional music lovers from across Ireland and beyond had pledged to help the pub re-open”

Belfast Newsletter 3rd March 2000

Thankfully the Crosskeys Inn re-opened its doors in May 2001.

The Crosskeys Inn Today

Secluded seating
Secluded seating
Traditional Irish Bar - feels like home
Traditional Irish Bar – feels like home

In the summer season the Crosskeys is renowned for its charity fund-raising BBQs and Lough Neagh Eel Suppers. The friendly and informative staff create an atmosphere of welcome and homeliness that makes you want to hurry back.

 In 2017, the current owner Vincent Hurl, entered into a partnership with a local distillery and the ‘Crosskey 1654’ an 8 year old single malt whiskey was launched. So if it’s a pint of the black stuff or a wee dram you are after the Crosskeys Inn is the place.

The Crosskeys Inn has not just captured a sense of history, it is history. Just take your time and look around you.

Crosskeys Whiskey
Crosskeys Whiskey
I hear you
I hear you

Location

The Crosskeys Inn, 40 Grange Road, Ardnaglass, Toomebridge, County Antrim BT41 3QB

Website: https://crosskeys-inn.com/

Tel:  028 79650694

Email: crosskeysinns@btinternet.com

Gallery

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We are a Belfast couple adding information on Belfast and the surrounding counties. Over coming months we will add a range of posts covering the people, places, products and stories that interest us and will hopefully be of interest to you. Over time we hope to build up information of use to locals & visitors alike and welcome your feedback on subjects of interest or stories that might be interest to the wider audience. Let us know what you think.

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