It’s winter, it’s cold; which means if you’re David Fallon, you go on frost-edged walks around Northern Ireland.
However, your other trusted blogger has very different plans for the shivering season. For me, winter means a guilt-free Bailey’s Coffee by a big fire, watching snow fall through a tinsel-edged Georgian window and humming along to that Chris de Burgh song we would never tolerate the other festive-free eleven months of the year.
I was born on the right island. At this time, Ireland seems to be corner after corner of glowing pub doorways leading to cosy, inviting pubs with flames licking from the open fire and Shane McGowan’s throaty vocals oozing from the stereo.
Here then, I share my guide to the best pubs to cuddle up in this holiday season. No need to thank me, just send over a coffee when you see me by the fire. Milk, one sugar. And maybe a biscuit…
The Library Bar, Central Hotel, Dublin City
Declared ‘Dublin’s best kept’ secret by the Guardian, who obviously don’t understand the concept of a secret, it is with a heavy heart that I share the existence of the Library Bar with you too. My seat of choice by the fire will always be taken with this kind of exposure. Sigh.
The Library Bar in the Central Hotel is simply the perfect Dublin bar for winter. I don’t step inside it before late November. The cosy upholstered chairs, dark wood bookcases of musty books and roaring open fire, meet fairy lights and red velvet bows with the chemistry of reunited lovers. A bearded man in red and white sipping a whiskey in the corner wouldn’t merit a second glance, so perfectly attuned to the season is this chandelier-lit, high-ceiling space. The open fire, Bailey’s Coffee and low music are my refuge when Christmas shopping on the busy streets outside gets that teeny bit too much.
After New Year’s Eve, our affair goes dormant for another year. I prefer to remember it the way it was – discrete tinsel, fir trees and candles in the window.
Hargadons, County Sligo
With a birthday back in 1864, Hargadons has seen many winters – and looks all the cosier for it. From the black flagstone floor to the cosy snugs, the interior has changed little since merchant Bernard Collery plyied his trade of groceries, beer, wine and spirits here in the 19th century. Framed receipts from the 1900s on the walls make for some elegant proof.
The musty, curious atmosphere of a museum makes for some amusing adventure as you wait for your pint to settle. Peek into the old dispensary drawers, along the buckling shelves of old stout bottles, and curious array of dusty pottery. Then ease yourself into the ambience with a pint of black stuff and Fresh Lissadell Oysters by the fire.
Considering all the awards – ‘best Gastro Pub’ to ‘Pub of the Year’ to ‘Best Traditional Pub’ – I’m not the first to send you here and I won’t be the last.
McDonnells, County Mayo
Coming across Belmullet (a town in Mayo, not a haircut), you can’t miss McDonnells. A traditional Irish pub serving craic agus ceol (that’s fun and music), and a great pint of Guinness. The massive roaring fire, well-pricked dart board, and live music ‘either the owner Padraic or a choice of many one-man bands’, stole the heart of this US student.
Madeline, from Oregan had this to say:
During our two-week stay out on the Belmullet Peninsula, Jacob and I quickly came to love going into Belmullet Town to grab a pint and some good conversation at McDonnells Pub. The cozy, open coal fireplace and tables made from old sewing machines make the pub especially homey. You don’t have to be a local to be made to feel right at home here.
This queen of coziness occupies a rather ‘ooh-aah’ location of an island (yes, the romantic reality of a castle on an island. And yes, Waterford Castle does weddings) . I visited this gothic pile for the first time last winter and had to be dragged kicking and screaming from a sofa snuggle-up beside what has to be the most sumptuous fireplace in Ireland.
Before arriving, I had plans of long frosty walks and burning off my mince pie munching in the gym, but in the end I just glued myself to the fireside sofa (not really you understand, that would have been a mess and ruined my new jumper). Along with a twinkling Christmas tree and the quiet mumble of carols you could say, I was in my very own winter wonderland. Only that, I was inside. That counts, right?
What I’m trying to say is, be it a cold beer, a crisp Chardonnay, an alka seltzer or a cuppa, fireside tipples don’t get much cosier than this.
Duke of York, Belfast
If it wasn’t for the Historical Pubs Walking Tour, I’d have never found this place. Tucked along a cobbled laneway in the Cathedral Quarter, right opposite one of the cutest murals in Belfast (an archway of famous people from all over Ireland, from George Best to Bono), it’s the hanging baskets and loud hum of patronage that tells you you’re on to something.
Inside, a glittering golden glow is cast along the walls and elegant tiles, courtesy of the lamps refracted through mirrors and countless antique whiskey bottles. It’s almost as beautiful as the Crown Bar Saloon, but with less tourists taking photographs and a lot more locals enjoying a pint. Walls that are not covered with whiskey bottles are plastered with drinking memorabilia, from old Guinness posters to age-spotted ciggarette mirrors. Local lore (or more specifically, my guide) tells me a young Gerry Adams poured pints here, Snow Patrol played some of their first gigs here and actor James Nesbitt has been known to pop in.
In summer, you can imagine quenching your thirst outside in the pretty cobbled laneway of flowers and murals. But come winter, everyone squishes in and gets toasty with a taste of their extensive whiskey range and a toasted sandwich.
Winter doesn’t get more wonderful than this.
Only a few more days to go! See what our blog has to say about all the parts of Christmas in Ireland.