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The Crown and Shamrock Inn History


The exact date that the Crown and Shamrock Inn was built is still unknown but it is believed that it originated as a farm. The first record of the bar dates back to 1872 when it was named Balvesey Stores and was a general merchant and public house. Weary travellers would frequent the halfway house after long journeys along the Antrim line into Belfast to sell fair at the markets. It lost its licence and changed hands many times from 1872 to 1901 and had a dark and sinister reputation for debauchery and dodgy dealings. The customers left their horses in the barn stables and had a few too many pints often ending up in brawls and a complete defiance of the police. You had to be a brave person to go for a pint in the bar then!

Then on 30th of May 1901 it was bought over by the Church of Ireland and Joseph Bigger was to run it, as the first of many public houses involved in a 30 year experiment to reduce the alcoholic consumption of its clientele! They renamed it the Crown and Shamrock Inn.  A historic blue plaque is situated on the building to
commemorate Joseph Bigger as an antiquary and Celtic revivalist; he opened the first premises of the Ulster public house association. He was ahead of his time rebranding the bar, not only to remove the dodgy reputation but also open a public house that served both sides of the community aptly naming it the Crown and Shamrock Inn. Sales of non-intoxicants reached 43% of the total receipts with Bovril and coffee being the most popular choices.  The levels of drunkenness and brawling showed a marked decline as a result of the experiment which led to over 500 similar Inns being established in England, Scotland and Wales.

The Crown and Shamrock was then purchased by Neil John O’Boyle in 1930 and continues to run as a free house to this day.  Neil’s great, grandson, Aidan McAlindon and his wife Fiona took over the bar in 2017.  Currently five generations of the same family have lived or worked in the bar since 1930 & the family just celebrated the 90th birthday of running this cosy historic bar.  During the families ownership the bar has survived the Second World War, when the citizens of Belfast would flock to the barn to shelter and get away from the parts of Belfast being heavily bombed, such as the water works.

The bar also survived the troubles, during this time there was a 9pm curfew in Belfast that was not enforced in the outer regions of the city. So again people used to come from far and wide to get a drink at the bar. These were some of the busiest times for the Crown and Shamrock, with every area full and people even out on the street drinking because they could not get in the door!

During these times even the kitchen and lounge had patrons having a tipple in them!

And most recently the bar has gone/is going through a worldwide pandemic, this is the only time they have been forced to close their doors in the 90 year history. During this time they decided to bring a pint of Guinness and a pizza to peoples doors.

In the 1950s, access was needed to the attics of the bar to run electric cables through the building.  A hole needed to be cut into one side of the roof as there was no access to that part of the loft.
A secret room was discovered, with its own fireplace (still containing ash) seats, decanters and newspapers dating back to the 1900s. But the most shocking find of all was four swords and a dagger, dating back to the 1800s. The true use and origin of this room is still a mystery.

An article was put in the local paper, urging historians to come forwards and shed light but unfortunately no new information materialised. It is possible it was used to hide highwaymen who were notorious in the area at the time or another possible conclusion is
that it was a priest bolthole, used at a time to hide catholic priests who were persecuted, tortured and even killed.

The swords are on display along with all the old deeds dating from 1972- 1930 in O’Boyle’s back bar for customers to view and have
a guess about the origin.

Also in the 1950s Alexander ‘Buck Alec’ Robinson (1901-1995) who was a boxer, ulster loyalist paramilitary and Ulster special constabulary reservist frequented the bar with his toothless pet
lion who he tied up outside. He gained notoriety in Northern Ireland for street fighting, robbery and owning a pet lion. It is rumoured ‘Buck Alec’ went to America in his youth and worked under Al
Capone or ‘Scarface’ who gave him a pet Lion that had its teeth removed.

The Crown and Shamrock Inn History