Ballycastle is at the heart of the Causeway Coastal Route, halfway between Belfast and Derry / Londonderry. The cultural heart according to the Glens of Antrim Tourism groups.
There are more than 12 pubs in this town of 5000 people: narrowing the choice down was difficult. So, in listing the top 5 pubs, we’ve ruthlessly excluded those that serve food (The Central Wine Bar, O’Connor’s Pub, The Diamond and The Anzac. Sorry, lads – it was the only way.)
This list, then, includes music pubs, dancing pubs, traditional pubs, seafront pubs and a bright pink pub. Our top 5 for a good night out. All of them for a great night out – it is a small town and quite walkable. Stagger-able, then.
5. Anglers Arms (Tessie’s)
Terence inherited this pub from his Mum, and it is still known by many as ‘Tessie’s’. Terence’s father was a fisherman and sailor, and there are many connections with Islay and other Scottish islands to this day.
This place exemplifies the Ulster-Scots heritage that forms the backbone and language of Ballycastle and the surrounding areas.
It is a great place to sit and look out over the beach to Fairhead (Dragonstone in the Game of Thrones’ world), and work your way through the impressive collection of Irish Whiskeys and contrast and compare them to the equally impressive selection of Scottish Whiskies. Drink responsibly and don’t hog the jukebox.
Address: 12 North St, Ballycastle BT54 6BN
4. The Harbour Bar
Niall is a laid back person with a love of music, and it shows in his bar. It’s a pared back, 1950’s kind of place with many regulars and a strongly supported weekly jazz music session upstairs. The session starts at 9.30pm. Don’t be early.
The pub is situated on the seafront, near the Castle hostel, and is open most days. The combination of an Irish pub and traditional jazz means that a Pink Gin with 1724 Tonic water is the only thing to drink in here. Groovy.
Address: North St, Ballycastle BT54 6BN
3. The Glenshesk Bar
This is a lovely bar, watched over by Mr Chips (a beautiful black Newfoundland dog). It plays old school tunes on Fridays and Saturdays.
There are revellers in here aged 18 to 80, and it is known colloquially as ‘Sin City’ as it transmogrifies into a sort of nightclub later at night. There’s an outdoor area which becomes a barbecue area on summer nights.
Dancing is obligatory at any time of the year. They used to serve a ‘Bucky Bomb’ in here (Buckfast Tonic Wine with a drop of a well-known energy drink!) but their cocktail of choice these days is a more cosmopolitan glass of Mor Irish Gin with a splash of Fevertree tonic water.
Address: 76 Castle St, Ballycastle BT54 6AR
2. The Boyd Arms
This defiantly pink pub was established in 1761 during the reign of King George III, ‘Farmer George’ and the current pink could well have been the original colour used.
Certainly, the layout hasn’t changed since. There’s a table that is practically an archaeological specimen, with business cards, notes, licences (!) and other paper paraphernalia pushed under the glass top.
It gets cleared out periodically but, if you dig, there are pictures of people from 30, 40 or more years ago. A pint of beer in the snug beside the bar would be just the thing.
Address: 4 The Diamond, Ballycastle BT54 6AW
1. The House of McDonnell
This very old, very beautiful pub has been in the same family since it opened in the early 1700s. The current owner, Tom O’Neill, is a nephew of the last McDonnell to have owned it. It’s known locally, and most affectionately, as ‘Wee Tom’s’.
The décor hasn’t changed in forever and is still split into the front bar and the back bar with many little rooms off it. Glasses glint and bottles beckon.
Every Friday night there is a ‘trad session’, which can include anything from a bodhran to a harp, to at least one fiddle and, occasionally, a tin flute. A pint of Guinness drunk in here is just perfect.
This blog was written just before Tom O’Neill sadly passed away. We’re still keeping this pub as the number one in the town. Locals will help Eileen to keep everything running. RIP Tom. You will be missed.
Address: 71 Castle St, Ballycastle BT54 6AS
So, we’ve taken you from the centre of the town (The Diamond) to the seafront (known as Port Brittas a thousand years ago) and introduced you to the landlords and the unique style of each of the top 5 pubs in Ballycastle. We hope to bump into you one day. Cheers, my dear!