Kelly’s Cellars bought by Derry’s Downey group in multimillion-pound deal

Deal for listed Belfast pub believed to be in the region of £5m

Exterior of Kelly's Cellars, with inset image of Henry Downey.
Kelly's Cellars on Belfast's Bank Street has been bought by the Derry pub group owned by Henry Downey (inset) and his two brothers Seamus and John. Picture by Mal McCann

One of Belfast’s oldest pubs, Kelly’s Cellars, has been bought by the Downey group in a multimillion pound deal.

The hospitality firm, headed by Derry’s former all-Ireland winning captain Henry and his brothers Seamus and John, already own some of Belfast’s best known pubs.

It’s understood the deal for 100% ownership of Kelly’s Cellars has been completed for between £4.5 million and £5m.

The Bank Street venue, which dates back to 1720, has been owned by Lily Mulholland and Martin O’Hara since 2000.

It’s believed the keys of the listed pub will be handed over on Wednesday.

The popular pub closed its doors on Tuesday for an event to thank staff for their service.

It’s due to reopen as normal on Wednesday under its new owners.

Kelly Cellars pub in Bank Square Belfast. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Kelly's Cellars was closed to the public on Tuesday ahead of its handover to the Downey group. Picture by Mal McCann

Downey’s Belfast pub portfolio already includes another of the city’s oldest pubs, McHugh’s.

The brothers also own Hellcat Maggies, The Kitchen Bar, Thirsty Goat and 21 Social.

The group operate another Thirsty Goat venue in Derry city, alongside the Metro Bar.

The latest available accounts for their trading company, Birch Village Company, recorded a turnover of £10.7m in the year to November 30 2022.

The accounts, which also factor in a residential property rental business, show the company posted a pre-tax profit of £3m that year.

The latest accounts for Kelly’s Cellars Ltd indicate the business had shareholder funds of £2.5m at the end of September 2023.

The history of the Belfast pub was acknowledged in 2007 with a blue plaque from the Ulster History Circle, which recorded Kelly’s Cellars as a meeting place for the Society of United Irishmen during 1791 to 1798.

One famous story recounts how in the aftermath of the failed 1798 rebellion, Henry Joy McCracken hid underneath the bar of Kelly’s Cellars to evade capture from pursuing soldiers.

Kelly Cellars pub in Bank Square Belfast. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Kelly's Cellars has been owned by Lily Mulholland and Martin O'Hara since 2000. Picture by Mal McCann

It’s believed the pub derives its name from Hugh Kelly, who leased the premises from around 1830.

The pub has changed hands numerous times down the years.

It was bought and refurbished by James Tohill in 1942, after sustaining damage during the Belfast Blitz the previous year.

It was later owned by the O’Kanes during much of the 1960s before being sold to Croft Inns during 1972.

Guinness later acquired the pub before offloading it in 2000.

The acquisition of Kelly’s Cellars by the Downey group comes after the brothers sold their Magherafelt pub to another Derry pub family, the McGlones.

Dormans Group, owned by the McGlone family, has also been on the acquisition trail, recently snapping up the Fiddler’s Rest in Portglenone and Hillsborough’s Plough Inn.

Kelly Cellars pub in Bank Square Belfast. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN
Kelly's Cellars is one of the oldest pubs in Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann