I had heard various claimants for the throne of Ireland’s oldest pub before but the two that kept coming up were The Brazen Head in Dublin and Sean’s Bar, Athlone. After a little research, a third claimant entered the race – Grace Neill’s in Donaghdee, Co. Down. It is worth noting that every other pub in the country claims to the “one of the oldest” but these three say there are none older than they.
Claims to date back to 900 and has the Guinness Book of Records to prove that it is not only the oldest pub in Ireland but in Europe – and is in the running to be the oldest in the world. During renovations in 1970, the old walls of the bar were found to be made of wattle and daub, and some old coins found at the same time date from this period also. Athlone, translated into Irish is Atha Luain, meaning “the Ford of Luain.” Luain was an innkeeper who guided people across the treacherous waters of the ancient ford. The crossing point and the pub date back to the year 900AD.
The Brazen Head
Located just a short walk from many of Dublin’s top attractions including the Guinness Storehouse, The Brazen Head claims it is officially Ireland’s oldest pub dating back to 1198 as an old coach house. It is unclear how much of the old coach house is still intact today. Some of its more famous patrons in the past have included James Joyce, Brendan Behan and Jonathan Swift as well as such revolutionaries as Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins.
Also lays claim to the title of Ireland’s Oldest Pub. Established in 1611 as The King’s Arms, Grace Neill’s has been visited by “smugglers and pirates, sailors and soldiers. Fishermen and lifeboatmen, businessmen and rascals have all enjoyed a drink or two in the original snugs at the front of the bar.” Grace Neill ran the pub from 1842 when her father bought it for her as a wedding present. She continued to do so until 1916 when she died at 98. She was renowned for her hospitality (and for smoking her clay pipe) and would often greet customers with a hug and kiss when they came in the door.
The Highest Pub in Ireland
This is a very interesting category in that Johnnie Foxes in the Dublin Mountains has been the undisputed holder of this title for quite some time. Dig a little deeper and you will find other claimants, however.
Top of Coom
Following a fire in May of 2012 which burned down this pub, it reopened less than two years later to reclaim its title as Ireland’s Highest Pub at 1,046 feet above sea level – the only pub in Ireland to break the 1,000ft barrier. While it seems that it is undoubtedly the Highest Pub in Ireland, it is more famous for this clip of some locals celebrating the opening. While it may not understand a word of what is being said, I urge you to stick with it until 2.05 minutes.
Established in 1858 and standing at 946ft above sea level, The Ponderosa on the Glenshane Pass also claims to be the pub that towers above all others. The surrounding area has a little Irish magic about it and is truly an idyllic spot to enjoy a few drinks whilst also capturing the opportunity to visit one of Ireland’s attractions. The Ponderosa only reopened early in 2014 following extensive renovations and is now an elegant bar and restaurant serving fresh seafood. This is a far cry from the coach house it once was in the 1800s. Surrounding area has a little Irish magic about it and is truly an idyllic spot to enjoy a few drinks whilst also capturing the opportunity to visit one of Ireland’s attractions
The most famous of the three due to its proximity to Dublin, traditional music nights, and food, it actually appears to be the third highest pub in the all of Ireland (910ft). Situated about 25-35 minutes from Dublin City Centre, Johnnie Fox’s is nestled in the peaceful township of Glencullen and surrounded by the beautiful scenery and serenity of the Dublin Mountains.
There was also an issue with a fourth pub in Roundwood in the Wicklow Mountains laying claim to the title of Highest Pub in the Highest Village in Ireland. The general consensus is that it is all just a bit of ‘craic’, either way.