Address :
15 Main Street,
BT19 1JH
Northern Ireland

Charming Crawfordsburn was named after John Crawford, a Scot from Ayrshire, whose descendants built the village during the reign of George Ill. including a water-powered sawmill and the old Mill House, typically 18th century Georgian in design, and of course, the delightful old Inn, built in 1614.
The village dates back to Plantation times.

Some say it was built originally for the workers from the not-too-distant Clandeboye Estate, but it had an existence in the Middle Ages in the form of a hermit monk’s cell down in the wooded ravine below.
The attractive thatched cottage in the centre of the inn is the oldest part, dating back to the concluding years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.

In the middle of the 18th century, the kitchen and bedrooms were added, while the East Wing is the most modern, based on the Irish Georgian times. In the reception hall of the Old Inn, you will find two old quern grindstones, one carved with a sign of the cross.

These were used by novice monks in mediaeval times for grinding corn, for this venerable Inn stood on an ancient highway that once connected Holywood Priory to the world-renowned Clonard Abbey in Bangor, founded by St. Comgall in 570 A.D.

Being an old coaching inn, its hospitality was enjoyed by many well-known persons. Captain James Bodley, who stayed here shortly after it opened, wrote in his diary that he could “choose from a large and beautiful cellar , stuffed geese, venison and assorted pies whilst the drink selection ranged from sweet Museatel wine, Syllub (a mixture of sweet wine and cream), Mum (a beer brewed from wheat) and Buttered Ale, served hot and flavoured with cinnamon and butter.”

It is claimed that the Duke of Schomberg, King William’s general, was a guest here, having landed earlier at Groomsport on his triumphal march to the Boyne. Other noted guests were John Paul Jones, the famous American privateer and the man who founded the American Navy, and the highwayman Dick Turpin, in hiding here as things were getting too hot for him 48 back on the mainland.

Tradition has it that Peter the Great, the Tsar of Russia, stayed here during a quick visit to our province to study the manufacture of damask, in which at one time we led the world. The Tsar also stayed overnight in Grace Neill’s Bar in Donaghadee.

A room above the bar is still called the Emperor’s Room. This inn was also frequented by smugglers up to the end of the 18th century, and well into this century secret hiding places for contraband were uncovered.

During that glorious period in Irish history – 1798 -the inn was connected with Henry Joy McCracken, who also pops up in Kelly’s Cellars. Inside can be found many fine specimens of antique furniture, such as a County Down dresser as perfect today as it was when it was a prominent feature in every Ulster farmhouse.

Look out for the magnificent 17th-century French brass chandelier and mock minstrel gallery in the main lounge. In the reception hall, there is a tall high-back crofter’s wicker chair. The reason for the high back, by the way, was to keep out draughts.

Unquestionably, the finest piece of furniture is the settle bed-chair with the date 1628 inscribed on it – nearly as old as the hotel itself.

There are now 32 bedrooms in the hotel. In the new wing, they are called after flowers like Marigold, Petunia, Mimosa, Sweet William, Honesuckle and Lobelia to name but a few, Much older and more charming bedrooms are called after local names like Rowallane, The Gables, and 1690 Room.

The two-tiered main restaurant is very stately looking, with rounded framed pictures of Victoria Regina and Prince Albert and heraldic arms adorning the walls. The Churn is a small bistro lounge with original Stations of the Cross doubling up as frames for black and white prints.

Here is where you can still buy dinner for two and a bottle of wine for£12.

In the small high-beamed Ava private function room, if you look closely you will see a confessional box in a corner. To the front, under the thatched roof, is the Olde worlde parlour bar, completely refurbished.
John Dickson, the very helpful manager, surprised me when he told me that all the wood came from the convent set of Fred Zinnerman’s tastefully directed film The Nun’s Story.

An interesting anecdote about the film is that it is the only Warner Bros. film not to have music over the end title. A decision could not be reached as to whether the music should end on an up-beat or a down-beat note. Either way, it was argued by Zinnerman, audiences would be offended.

If upbeat, it would imply that the filmmakers approved of Audrey Hepburn’s final defection; if downbeat, that they did not.

Thus, it was decided, after much initial opposition from the Head of Warner Bros., Jack Warner, to have no music at all.

The place still oozes character and charm. The much-celebrated prizewinning garden (with its honeymoon cottage) overlooks another hidden beauty, the Upper Glen of Crawford’s burn, where a river tumbles down a series of waterfalls 200 feet below on its way to the open Irish Sea, a matter of a few miles away. It is truly a beguiling place.

In its brochure, the Old Inn lays claim to be the oldest hotel in Ireland. This is not quite correct.
The oldest hotel in Ireland is probably Brazen Head Hotel in Lower Bridge Street in Dublin, once a safe house for Lord Edward Fitzgerald. It dates back to the end of the 12th century. The present building dates back to 1668.

Dating back also to 1180 is Kilrea Castle Hotel, once the home of the same Fitzgerald family, in County Kildare. I’ve also been informed by Bord Failte that the Cock and Hen near Gormanstown, outside Drogheda on the main road to Dublin, is very old.

All three houses have for many years now ceased trading as hotels. So the Old Inn at Crawfordsburn can justly lay claim to be the oldest hotel in Ireland in continuous use.