Crosskeys Inn named BBC Countryfile Country Pub of the Year
IRELAND's oldest thatched pub has been named BBC Countryfile Country Pub of the Year.
The Crosskeys Inn near Toomebridge picked up the accolade after being short-listed in the high profile competition earlier this year.
And owner Vincent Hurl has thanked everyone who voted for the 17th century coaching inn, as well as staff, customers and musicians, "who all make Crosskeys the special establishment it is."
He said: "Countryfile is a big deal so this is fantastic news, not just for the business, but for the wider tourism offering in the area.
"Crosskeys has been welcoming tourists to the area for years and this award recognises the locals who have helped them all feel welcome."
Although the local watering hole has long featured high up the list in the pub section of several tourist websites – including Ireland Before You Die – landing in the 'final five' short-list came as a complete surprise to its unassuming owner.
"Someone from Countryfile must have come in for a pint and liked it," said Vincent, who bought the pub in 2001 and is hoping to press ahead with an approved £1.2 million extension to include 10 bedrooms and a restaurant.
"We're are always getting strangers in the bar; tourists drop in from all over the world, so no-one would have passed any remark," he said.
"We're well known for our beer and our famed traditional music nights."
The building dates back to 1654 – Vincent says lecturers from Queen's University were able to pinpoint the year through studying a fallen wooden beam – and it was once a coaching stop on the old Belfast to Derry Road.
And, as was the norm back in the day, it also trebled-up as a general rural store and post office.
"When tourists come to Northern Ireland, it is a genuine rural experience they want, so Countryfile Country Pub of the Year award will really put us on the map," Mr Hurl said.