All of us at Ireland Before You Die love knowing an area, discovering where locals prefer to drink rather than where everyone and his horse has been.
Places like these are only stumbled upon by asking your B&B owner where they drink or by overhearing a chance remark by those who’ve lucked out on finding them.
5. The Bridgend Tavern, Glenarm
This pretty blue pub is situated on the corner of a roundabout in Glenarm. This village claims to be the oldest in Ulster, having been granted its charter in the 12th Century.
Its somewhat dubious claim to fame is that this is where an outbreak of cholera started in 1854.
Stevey, the landlord, reckons the only thing you’ll catch here now is some peace and quiet. It’s a perfect first stop, old-fashioned and genuine, with wooden chairs, and oddball regulars at the bar.
Pop in for a £1 ‘mix up’. A traditional treat of a little paper bag full of fizzy, sugary fixes such as penny blacks, gobstoppers, space dust and chewy nougat on sticks. What’s not to like?!
For those in the know, Stevey travels a lot and has amassed a cellar full of excellent wine at very reasonable prices. Don’t tell anyone.
Address: 1 Toberwine St, Glenarm, Ballymena BT44 0AA
4. McCollum’s Bar, Cushendall
Known to everyone as Johnny Joe’s (hence the name of the excellent restaurant above it – Upstairs at Joe’s), this magnet for traditional musicians and local storytellers is on the main street just past the Curfew Tower.
It’s easily missed but an absolute ‘must do’ in North Antrim. It is set in a time warp with small rooms, one bar, smoke-blackened ceilings, and photos and furnishings from the 1950’s.
A pint of Guinness here of an evening, listening to a fiddler accompanying a bodhran player, is a memory to cherish.
Just remember that time has no meaning in the Glens, you may well stay longer than you planned. Just go with the flow.
Address: 23 Mill Street, Cushendall, Ballymena BT44 0RR
3. Mary McBride’s, Cushendun
This pub was once one of the smallest pubs in Ireland. Cormac has brought it up to date while keeping all its vintage charm.
The wee bar on the left as you come in is a living museum: ‘public houses’ were once places to buy groceries and catch up on gossip.
At the price charged for a box of tea bags, go for the steak and Guinness pie instead! An excellent chef is working here but check the opening times: standardised hours aren’t for everyone.
Address: 2 Riverview Cres, Cushendun, Ballymena BT44 0PG
2. O’Connor’s Bar, Ballycastle
Ballycastle is a fun town with fantastic local food producers all around it. Do full justice to this excellent provenance in the relaxed surroundings of O’Connor’s bar, a brightly coloured pub on Ann Street.
Roaring stoves; inventive, great tasting daily specials; comfortable, beautifully upholstered furnishings and friendly, helpful staff.
This is just the place to have a huge seafood platter with some artisan sourdough bread and a glass of Rathlin Red ale from the Glens of Antrim Craft Ales and Beers or a North Coast Smokehouse organic salmon pasta dish and the gin cocktail of the day. Perfect.
Address: Ann St, Ballycastle BT54 6AA
1. The Scotch House, Bushmills
Only the people of Bushmills and lucky guests of the hostel next door make use of this clean, fresh wee pub set on the Main Street just down from its more famous neighbour, The Bushmills Inn.
The Scotch House has the most welcoming, down to earth staff you’ll find anywhere (prepare to be called ‘pet’). There are little nooks for reading (complete with bookcase) or tables for chatting in small groups (complete with a big open fire).
Behind the partition, there are rows of seriously comfy armchairs where you can sit by yourself with a quiet pint or move them together and so set the world to rights in big groups.
This is where locals watch the ‘big matches’ on the massive TV during the winter or gather together for no reason at all except ‘community’, which Michael, the landlord, fully embraces.
Address: 51 Main St, Bushmills BT57 8QA
This route and these pubs should be experienced slowly over at least a couple of days. Don’t rush when taking your undiscovered, offbeat journey through Ireland – stop and talk to us. Sure, we’re dying to meet you.