The Portaferry Hotel
The Portaferry Hotel
7-10 The Strand
tel:- 028 4272 8231
fax:- 028 4272 8999
web address:- www.portaferryhotel.com/
The Portaferry Hotel :-
Licensed for Civil Ceremonies
Venue type - Hotel
Number of function rooms available for weddings: 1
Function room names and capacities: Main Hotel Restaurant - max capacity is 85
Guests rooms available: 14
Honeymoon suite available: Yes
Garden suitable for marquees: No
Alcohol License Yes
Toastmaster Available Yes
Dedicated wedding planner available Yes
Licensed for Civil Ceremonies Yes
Dance Floor Yes
Evening Reception Facilities Yes
Car Parking Facilities Yes
Ideal Honeymoon Venue
Tables chairs linens and tableware included
Wedding services provided: We provide a full plated service or buffet service.
Gardens or outside locations suitable for wedding photography: There are no gardens, however the hotel is on the shores of Strangford lough, offering views across the lough.
Suitable locations inside the venue for wedding photography: Yes the fireplace in the reception area.
Local picturesque areas suitable for wedding photography: Castle Ward estate is located across the lough and Mount Stewart estate is located 30 minute drive away.
The hotel is right on the lough offeriveng panoramic views of the lough.
Venue History: Not much is know about the appearance of Portaferry until the last century. We have very old buildings surviving to this day like the Castle and the Church ruins at Templecraney, but generally the buildings that were part of it. There are details, fragments of plasterwork and joinery that have survived that suggest by the middle of the 18th century the water was lined by buildings from the comer of castle street to St Patrick's Hall. Harris in 1744 describes its appearance as run down but a substantial settlement none the less.
It seems reasonable therefore to suppose that a building has stood where the Hotel now stands from at least the early 18th Century if not before. The earliest firm documentation is the map of 1799 drawn by Patrick O Hare for Andrew Savage. This map is accompanied by a schedule of leases. The Hotel plot includes the complete Castle Street frontage (the Castle Row and Mill Lane). Up to the comer of Cuan Place (then Rock Alley) and the strand, or quay frontage, equal to that of the present Hotel. It is leased to Read and Allen and is a very valuable premises fetching #140. This indicates the existence of a profitable business but none is named. It may have been the Mill and the rest of the premises may have been stores and a substantial dwelling. The next firm documentary evidence if from the 1838 Poor Law (Griffiths) Valuations. The lessor is scheduled as Hugh Boden and the premises is described as house, office and yard. This time the Quay frontage is down to the one premises. The mill, which has become Mazwells Distillery, is excluded from the plot and yet the valuation is #12.12s while the house next door on a similar sized plot is only #4.16s. In 1860 Andrew Nugent sold a new lease to one Edward Bryce. In the wording of the lease it is specifically forbidden for the premises tobe "used as a Tavern or Public House for the sale of spirituous liquors".
The lease includes the corner buildings and the house next door but in the revised poor law valuations 1863 it is recorded that Edward Bryce has sublet the house to John Wylie and the cottages beyond to Margaret Boyle. By this time the valuation has risen to #38, the highest in the town. It is tantalizing not to be able to trace the use to which these buildings were then put. By 1863 the buildings behind in Castle Street are described as derelict and the distillery has reverted to a cornmill and drying kiln.
Trade and Commercial growth was prodigious for the beginning of the 19th Century on. By the middle of the century the port handling more shipping than any other on Strangford Lough. Prosperity reached an all time peak during the course of the American Civil War 1861 -65. It was about this time that Edward Bryce obtained his landlords permission to open a spirit grocers in the corner premises. This if confirmed by an entry in the Belfast and Ulster Directory of 1870. There is of course no question of it being a hotel, there already being three flourishing hotels in the Square, Elliott's, Mc Causland's and Parks. No information survives about Edward Bryce as a man but is is recorded that he held the agency for Messrs, Norton and Shaw's cars that ran a service to and from Newtownards. On 3rd December 1880 he sold his lease to Henry and Hannah Mc Grath and from then and for nearly half a century the establishment was known as "McGrath's of the Quay".
Henry Mc Grath had a lively intellect and over the years became involved in practically every aspect of Portaferry life. The spirit grocer trade quickly became secondary to his auctioneering activities. He was active in politics as a Parnellite and was deeply involved in the Young Ireland Movement. In 1884 he stood to be elected to the Down Board of Poor Law Guardians and subsequently to be a member of the newly created Down County Council where he served until ill health prevented him from continuing. He was a content and active supporter for the Ards Railway project and by the way of recreation was involved in local amateur dramatics and literacy circles where he rubbed shoulders with the local poet Patrick Mc Manus and photographer Frank Mc Carrie. An obituary published in the Irish News of 17th February 1927 paints a very vivid portrait of his lifestyle and interests. During his ownership of the Hotel Building a porch was added to the entrance into the Spirit grocers and because of the new licensing controls that followed the Government of Ireland Act, the bar was separated from the shop and a dispensing license was issued. One can imagine the lively political and literacy dialogue that was almost certainly commonplace during those years. After Henry's death the business passed to his window Hannah and his son James Henry Dr Noble recalls in the memoirs of his childhood. Bridie James daughter giving music lessons in the house. The father's wide flung interest had left him little time for the spirit grocer trade so that the business was not in the best of health. In 1933 the family gave up the struggle and sold to William Lyons.
In 1936 the premises were again for sale. This time the purchaser was William Mc Mullan. William was already established as one of the leading businessmen of the town. He had previously purchased the gas works quay and the salt pans for Humbert Montgomery and he was living in the beautiful fashionable arts and crafts house that Montgomery had had designed to take the maximum advantage of the views overt the Lough. He also owned substantial property in High Street where he had roofed in what had been the garden to create a massive warehouse. He had more warehouses in Purgatory and there was the mill at Ballyherly built as a flax mill and later used to make desiccated soup, also a fleet of lorries. It is just a point of interest that the Hotel building was by this time surrounded by William McMullan strongest competitor James Elliott & Co who owned the warehouse up Castle Street and had almost exclusive use of the quay in front of the building. It is hardly surprising with all these other interest that William McMullan let the Spirit grocers to Mrs Corbett and her daughter Miss Eileen Thompson. Mrs Corbett had recently been widowed for the second time after only a year of marriage. Miss Thompson and her elder sister Mrs Taylor thought the change of coming to live in Portaferry would do their mother good. Miss Thompson who had absolutely no previous experience in this sort of business set about the task of creating a new hotel with great enthusiasm. By this time all the old established hotel businesses in the town had closed and this little building at the corner of Castle Street was very run down. Part of the premises was semi-derelict and used simply as a store with a badly worn and broken stone flagged floors, while the only lavatory accommodation was a four holder in the yard. First of all she applied for a full Hotel licence and then she employed James Beck to thoroughly renovate the whole building and convert it to proper Hotel Accommodation. James son Davy remembers working on the conversion. He tells the story about rebuilding the porch and laying new patterned floor tiles through into the hall, the councils building inspector called and told them to stop work because this was a new structure and no application had been made. In reply his father promptly sent Davy up to Smyth's of the Rock to buy a postcard of the shore front. When this was brought he proved conclusively to the Inspector that there has been a porch before.
Mrs Taylor remembers some of the regular visitors in those times like Col Birkin managing director of Summersets who ran the factory where the parochial hall and club are now housed in Steel Dickson Avenue. Also Mr Henderson proprietor of the News Letter Regatta week was the highlight of the year when the whole shore front was lined with stalls and booths.
Disasters as well as festivals brought great activity and excitement sot hat when the Georgetown Victory was grounded off Killard Point in 1964 the Hotel was quickly transformed into a temporary hospital. Miss Cresswell was employed by Mrs Corbett to look after the house so that her daughter could be free to deal with the business. As part of the conversion work a doorway was broken out to interconnect the house and the hotel as the telephone was installed the number was Portaferry 231.
Miss Thompson ran the business through the difficult war years but in 1947 she decided to retire. The premises were offered for sale and bought by Mrs Mary Wilson. By contrast to Miss Thompson Mrs Wilson was already experienced in the hotel trade and had owned the Beresford Arms Hotel in Armagh for several years. She had spent previous holidays in Portaferry and realised the potential of this beautiful siting. Again she employed James Beck to carry out a major refit that left the building very much in the form that it remained until 1991. Parquet flooring was laid in the dining Room of the house next door, but the fireplace was kept as an island unit in the middle of the enlarged room. The kitchens were re-equipped and all services renewed. The office at the end of the Hall and the telephone kiosk under the stairs were all part of this work. At the end of it all the Hotel had doubled its accommodation to 12 beds and the Automobile association were sufficiently impressed to include an entry in their Irish handbook of 1949. Mrs Wilson brought with her several employees from around Armagh to work in Portaferry. Amongst these was Emma Connor who subsequently married Aiden Murry and has stayed in Portaferry ever since. Others who came include Nora Magee and Lilly Nugent.
At Easter time the ferry was hired and the staff all went on an outing on the Lough bringing food and drink with them.
Supplies were in fact sill difficult to get so that some unconventional means had to be employed at times, to keep the Hotel provided for Mrs Wilson and her husband commuted between Portaferry and Armagh but this was not a very satisfactory arrangement and so Mrs May Sheridan a relative was appointed manageress. Even so the strain of running two Hotels became increasingly stressful so that Mrs Wilson eventually decided to pass the business on to her brother in law John Wilson and his wife Elizabeth. John Wilson had served with the R.A.F during the second world war. He took the prospect of running the Portaferry hotel very seriously and prepared himself by training in hotel management at the Royal Albino in Brighton. The tariff in his time is interesting to compare with today process
Lunch 4s 6d
High tea 6s
Bed and breakfast 10s 6d
Weekly board #Y6 6s
it was an eventful time and Mr Wilson involved himself actively in the life of the town.. Amongst other enterprises he was one of the founding members of the Portaferry development committee. The committee campaigned strenuously for the establishment of a reliable car ferry, one of his interesting collections of photographs shows the ferry slip under construction. He vividly recalls the visit by the prime mister Terence O'Neil at the height of the campaign and being landed at the last minute with the job of delivering the formal address of welcome. Others of his memories include the visit of the duke of Edinburgh to Strangford a BBC commentator based in the hotel doing his bit towards a programme to record the first regular flight by a bickers van guard the flight path was over Portaferry the loss of the princess Victoria and the bomb at the head of the church street that scatted debris as far a field as the hotel yard. It is a strange coincidence that Mr Wilson's son trained with Mr Herlihy at the Russell Count and now owns a public house in Bushmills. Similarly it is very strange that his sister in law Mrs Wilson had in her childhood attended Mrs Tayloy's school of dancing. In 1975 they decided to move to Devon and the Hotel was sold to John Lilley who has a public house in Carrowdore. But he only kept if or a year and sold on to a consortium knows as B.J Bistros Ltd and then in 1980 it was sold to John and Marie Herlihy. The Herlihy's had come to Northern Ireland to manage the Russell Court for CIE and after that was bombed by terrorists they took on the prestigious Everglades on the outskirts of Londonderry but the Portaferry hotel they bought for themselves. The only significant change in the building from the major renovations when Mrs Wilson first took over had been further extension of the bar by incorporating more of the house. This extension was named the rocking goose and was entered by way of the old house door I quote here for the February/March 1993 issue of MM: "Mr John Herlihy a tall and gentle man with wife Marie runs the small Portaferry hotel just across the narrows. He buys fish on the pier follows U.S politics with well informed interests (America Irelands overseas parish!) and likes to help his guests find local antiques." The Herlihys set about a contract of repairs that were carried out by the building firm of Joseph McClune. This work included the fitting of small paned sash windows in the original Hotel building. After ten years of operation it was decided to transform the building again. The architects McCormick, Tracey, Mullarkey were employed and the work was carried out by the local building firm of Coleman Brothers. Work was completed in June 1999. The Premises now incorporates the entire original house and the adjoining parlour houses as well as the original Hotel. The building was stripped down to the basic structural masonry walls so that practically everything is new although there are remnants left if you know where to look. Even so the basic scale and character are unchanged so that despite the increase in size and building fits well with the general pattern of buildings along the picturesque shore front. This year the Herlihys efforts were recognised by the Irish county houses and restaurants association and entered into their blue book. Only two other establishments in the North have received this high accolade, indeed there are only thirty entries overall.
Other information: The hotel has been awarded 3 AA Rosettes and has won restaurant of the year from the RAC.
Playing pranks on the newlywed couple was also a tradition, which began with the intentions of warding off evil spirits. Loyal friends of the couple would do this in hopes that the spirits would take pity on the couple for already being picked upon enough, and would then leave the couple alone.