Lives Remembered

Niall Regan: 'Ponderosa' publican enjoyed life filled with love, laughter and adventure

Niall and Geraldine Regan were married in 1971

NIALL Regan understood that the art of being a good publican is not just in the drink you serve, but also the yarn that goes with it.

As proprietor of the highest bar in Ireland - The Ponderosa atop the Glenshane Pass - he became a well-known character across Co Derry and beyond for his mischievous outlook on life.

A raconteur with a sharp wit and vast catalogue of jokes and puns, he lived nearly 77 years filled with fun and high jinx, love and laughter, anecdotes and tall tales, adventure and resilience.

Born in 1943, the second of five children to Matt and Mary Regan, the bar trade was a natural vocation for Niall.

When he was three, his parents bought the old McNicholl's Hotel on Hall Street, Maghera and it became their family home, restaurant and pub.

Niall attended nearby Fair Hill Primary School and was a boarder at St Columb's College in Derry, before beginning work with his uncle Brendan at the Market Inn in Draperstown.

His affable, fun and friendly personality made him a natural barman.

In the late 1960s, Niall was at a dance in Dungiven Castle when he met a beautiful young teacher called Geraldine Agnew, who was holidaying in Maghera from her native Belfast. They married in 1971 and set up home in Hall Street.

Niall was by now keen to venture into business on his own.

He and his father had been leasing a drinking house at the very top of the Glenshane Pass called Bradley's and he bought it and put his own stamp with a notable new name - the Ponderosa.

Niall Regan behind the bar of what was later to become The Ponderosa in the 1960s

It was a nod to his father who bore a remarkable resemblance to Ben Cartwight from the 1960s TV show Bonanza, featuring the Ponderosa ranch. Niall and his three brothers also looked like the Cartwright brothers and what started as a joke stuck.

Running a business on the top of a mountain in the 1970s wasn't easy. He had no electricity supply, no telephone and was at the whim of Glenshane's notoriously cruel winters.

Niall Regan behind the bar of The Ponderosa with Manchester United legend Paddy Crerand

As the Troubles raged, Niall's remote location also made him a sitting duck for raiders.

But despite the challenges, he was in heaven with wonderful staff, a loyal dog, a blazing turf fire, a bottomless pot of home-made soup and a stream of fascinating characters through the doors bringing plenty of stories and news.

It was a popular stopping point for tourists, with well-known customers including Manchester United footballer Paddy Crerand.

The 1980s saw Niall branch out with others to run a handful of snooker halls across mid-Ulster.

However, he and Geraldine by now had three young children and after nearly 25 years of pulling pints at the top of the Sperrins, he took the tough decision to sell his beloved Ponderosa.

Away from work, Niall was a talented Gaelic footballer and was proud to play for many years for Watty Graham's GAC, Glen, winning a Derry Junior Championship in 1964.

His father Matt had been an exceptional footballer, playing soccer professionally for Belfast Celtic and Shamrock Rovers as well as Gaelic for Ballinascreen and Derry.

Matt was the first Derry player ever selected to play for Ulster and Niall was pleased to follow something of his path by pulling on a Derry jersey as a junior player.

The Watty Graham's junior team of 1964. Niall Regan is pictured in the back row, fifth from left

When Geraldine became principal of St Columba's PS, Straw in 1991 he volunteered to coach the boys' football, nurturing a squad of young Ballinascreen players.

Niall loved traditional Irish music, playing the tin whistle and singing in a band called Roguery in his younger days. He was the life and soul of any party and never took much convincing to sing The Mountainy Farmer.

Niall Regan with the Sam Maguire Cup in 1993 after seeing his beloved Derry win their first All-Ireland

He was also an accomplished golfer. A founding member of the Moyola Park club, he was also granted honorary membership of Dunfanaghy Golf Club in Co Donegal.

His love of Maghera was matched only by his love for Dunfanaghy where he holidayed since childhood. Even after suffering a life-changing stroke in 1999, he would patrol its links in his Harley Davidson buggy, acting as course ranger on busy days.

A devoted grandfather and great-grandfather, Niall suffered another series of strokes almost five years ago, leaving him with significant disabilities and the onset of dementia.

Cared for unfailingly by his devoted wife, one of the last pleasures to slip from his life was the daily GAA coverage in The Irish News.

After a full and fulfilled life, Niall passed away peacefully on January 31 in his Hall Street home.

Following Requiem Mass at St Patrick's Church, Glen, he was buried in its graveyard at the foot of Glenshane.

He will be sadly missed by his wife, children Siobhan, Niall Óg and Claire (Harrison), their granddaughters Cliodhna, Katie and Rosa, great-granddaughter Saoirse, son-in-law, sister, brothers and wider family circle.

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