The Crosskeys Inn – Ireland’s Oldest Thatched Public House
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.
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.
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!
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.
It is thought the inn acquired its unusual name from the crossed keys of the Papal insignia.
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.
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.
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
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.
The Crosskeys Inn, 40 Grange Road, Ardnaglass, Toomebridge, County Antrim BT41 3QB
Tel: 028 79650694
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In the picturesque glens of Antrim lies the abandoned village of Galboly. Hidden from view, its derelict cottage ruins recall a bygone age.
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