Food & DrinkPub Spy

Pub Spy: Ballygally Castle Hotel, Co Antrim, is a top 'haunt'

Ballygally Castle is reported to be one of the most haunted buildings in Ireland
Ballygally Castle is reported to be one of the most haunted buildings in Ireland

Ballygally Castle Hotel, Coast Road, Ballygally.

The haunted house on the Antrim coast is the gateway to one of the most stunning coastal drives on the planet.

The perfect base from where to explore the Glens of Antrim and on up to the Giant’s Causeway, it is a cosy, welcoming staging post for any journey.

The place is said to be haunted by Lady Isobella Shaw, wife of a previous owner, and clearly it is down to her whether or not you are a welcome guest.

It helps that her room remains ready for her should she want to rest her ghostly bones – walking the corridors and making things go bump in the night for 400 years is a tiring business.

Legend has it that Lord Shaw wanted a son, and when his wife delivered his heir, he snatched the baby from his wife and locked her in a room at the top of the castle. While trying to escape to search for her beloved child, Lady Isabella fell to her death from the tower window!

Lady Isobella has managed to put it all behind her and is now a friendly guardian of her old home.

And that’s precisely the feeling you get as you walk through the doors – this place is homely. It’s like your favourite blanket.

Pub Spy’s mission was golf – having hacked his way through 18 holes he was in need of some 19th hole comfort, a sympathetic ear – and a rake of pints.

There’s nothing particularly ostentatious about the Ballygally Castle, but it is extremely comfortable, the rooms are spotlessly clean and the small but adequate, bar serves up lashings of cold, cold beer.

Golf clubs safely dumped upstairs, we repaired to the bar.

They say size isn’t everything which is just as well as the bar is rather on the miniature side – undaunted, we ordered beers. They were served with a smile and boy were they good!

It was time to replay the afternoon’s round.

Half a dozen pints later and the afternoon’s play was being viewed in a very different light. Fuelled by yet more drink, it set Pub Spy and friends keen for a venture up the coast in search of more golfing adventures.

If the bar is a little claustrophobic, there’s the walled garden outside. 

Weather permitting and in the shadow of the original castle it is the perfect place to unwind – ancient stone walls protect you from the winds whistling off the sea across the road. The staff could not be more attentive – polite and cheerful in equal measure, they made Pub Spy’s brief stay all the more pleasurable.

Fed and watered, Pub Spy bunkered down in advance of the next day’s golf.

Even the bathroom tap mysteriously turning itself on in the middle of the night failed to dampen our experience – maybe Lady Isobella was just reminding who’s the Queen of the Castle.

Pub Spy rating: Five pints

Belvoir Park Golf Club, Church Road, Castlereagh

What a place in which to start three days of golf.

Not only is Belvoir, in Pub Spy’s humble opinion, the finest parkland golf course in Belfast, it boasts a clubhouse that would be hard to rival for class, comfort and service.

A huge picture window running the breadth of the building offers stunning views of the magnificently manicured course.

A few pints in the sun on the balcony watching the stragglers struggle home is the perfect way to end the day. Belvoir oozes class – not just on the rolling fairways.

The thoroughly modern bar offers fine food and a welcoming atmosphere. Pub Spy washed away his sorrows at another disappointing  round with a few ice cold beers.

As dining experience there can’t be anything better that enjoying a meal or a drink feasting on the stunning view.

Pure magic.

Pub Spy rating: Five pints 

Cairndhu Golf Club, Coast Road, Larne

From the best in Belfast to the best of the Antrim coast.

Cairndhu enjoys a commanding position as the Glens roll down to the sea. Don’t be put off by the climb and the daunting sight of the first fairway which seems to rise like the north face of the Eiger!

The view from the top is well worth the climb. From there on the course is surprisingly flat – round every corner is yet another reminder that you really are in God’s country.

Pub Spy and team sauntered into the clubhouse for a dose of renowned Antrim coast hospitality.

There are a lot of bars and hotels that could take a leaf out of Cairndhu’s book – while the stunning views made the pints taste even better, the welcome could not have been more complete.

When it comes to golf and hospitality, Cairndhu is one of those gems – on and off the course.

Pub Spy rating: Five pints

Ballycastle Golf Club, Cushendall Road, Ballycastle

Speaking of gems – stretched along a slither of the Co. Antrim coast, Ballycastle enjoys a stunning setting.

Unlike Cairndhu, here you are right on the water, which was not particularly helpful to Pub Spy’s golf.  A strong sea breeze put paid to any hopes of relieving his companions of their hard-earned cash. 

The golf course is one of the most scenic in Northern Ireland and has a multitude of personalities from tame parkland holes to wild links offerings and includes flat and low-lying holes and a back nine that launches you up into seaside hills that command panoramic views.

This is what golf is all about.

The imposing club house is the perfect place in which to unwind – cold pints and a mixed grill (classic golfers’ fare).

A perfect end to a near perfect three days.

Pub Spy rating: Five pints