Grace Neills bar in Donaghadee, County Down, dates to 1611 and is the oldest bar in Northern Ireland. When founded, it was known as the King’s Arms and according to some stories, it was quite a tough spot. When Grace herself took over the pub, her friendly but firm demeanour quickly put manners on the regulars, and the other characters who would call in from time to time were also kept firmly in check.
Although the venue has been extended over the years, the original pub with its traditional snug remains largely unchanged – but today’s clientele is more naturally appreciative of the fine ales, wines, and food now available.
But the whiskeys and other liqueurs behind the counter at Grace Neills are not the only spirits that this pub has to offer.
Grace herself died in 1916, and her hospitable presence is still felt from time to time, keeping a watchful eye over her beloved pub and ensuring her standards are maintained. Guests have reported feeling a presence passing by and even through them near a staircase, and a lady in Victorian dress has been spotted in the front bar.
Grace is probably keeping an eye on the other souls that haunt this traditional seaside bar and making sure they behave themselves, but it sounds like she may have her work cut out.
Members of staff have heard sweeping noises, witnessed glasses being moved by unseen hands, and seen cups being pushed off shelves. And while visitors enjoy fine hospitality in the bar downstairs, a more malevolent presence has been experienced upstairs. Heavy footsteps have been heard coming from the first floor when there has been nobody there and Mike Hirons, a ghost hunter, once told local media that he encountered an evil presence during his investigation of the space.
The anomaly appeared before me as a ball of light upstairs and was very evil, very unpleasant. Spirits also suck energy from people, and I got very out of breath as my energy was drawn out. It was an extremely oppressive experience.
A member of staff also claimed to have seen a shadowy figure on several occasions while working upstairs.
So, while Grace may keep watch downstairs, it could well be that one of the “…smugglers and pirates, sailors and soldiers… fishermen and lifeboatmen, businessmen and rascals” that were said to frequent the pub in her day, may have also moved into this popular and lively spot.
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