10 Church St,
BT22 1LS

 It’s just impossible not to notice the colourful green and white frontage of this ‘jewel of a pub’ in the heart of Portaferry. If you look closely at both sides of the attractive swinging sign of an Irish fiddler sitting on a bollard – begorrah, you’d swear he was winking at you! The pub is well over 60 years old.

For 20 years prior to July 1989 it was called Peter’s Bar, Peter being Peter Tomelty, one of our most popular tenors over the years, and brother of Joe, the celebrated Portaferry-born actor and playwright – don’t you remember The McCooeys radio series back in the late forties? Peter’s Bar was famous in the Ards and beyond as a great ‘Camairle’ sing-song house, and you were always sure of a couple of songs from Peter (still in fine voice), or a turn from his talented wife, the former Gertie Wynne.

In July 1989 they decided to retire and sold it to Maureen and Frank McCarthy, who hailed from Belfast. Frank, a long-distance lorry driver, had intended to keep on his job for a few years to support the bar, but he needn’t have worried, for within 6 months business was booming, so much so that he had to pack his old job in. All his life Frank had a great love for folk songs, and nothing he liked better than a good old sing-a-long, being a dab hand at the guitar, and with a pleasant voice to match, it wasn’t long before he was performing nightly before an appreciative bunch of customers.

Each night you can still hear him, accompanied by Victor Monaghan on the banjo. Incidentally, every session begins and ends with, of course, the bar’s National Anthem, ‘Fiddler’s Green’: an old sea shanty, a sort of fisherman’s Valhalla, and a longtime favourite of Frank’s.

The compact, small bar itself is old-worlde, with a nautical touch, with its hanging creels and ship lanterns. In keeping with the musical tradition of the house, the walls are covered with musical instruments like the banjo, guitar, fiddle and bow, accordion, bodhran, and penny whistle. Hanging from the low ceiling above the bar counter are two hats.

Speen Written in green on a white jockey cap is Fiddler’s Green, 99, Eugene in the State of Oregon. Seemingly, a total stranger made Frank a present of it in the bar during the year. The other is a tall ‘stage Irish’ green hat with the words “Erin Go Bragh” (Ireland For Ever).

This was worn in a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Canada. At the rear of the bar, a door will lead you into a small yard, and up a short flight of stairs will take you into ‘The Quarterdeck’, a former loft with its abundant woodwork throughout, ship lights, lifebelts with ‘The Quarterdeck’ written on them, ship’s clock, and overhead lights set in lobster creels – all the artefacts undoubtedly give this bar a nautical air that’s thoroughly appropriate to this small yachting village.

Only open at weekends, here the music sessions range from Irish folk to traditional, and generally the music is impromptu and spontaneous, with popular Liam Gilmore acting as MC. By the way, Peter and Gertie, who still live in the back garden of the pub, are regulars and often entertain the crowd with a song or two.

I must warn you, The Quarterdeck is generally packed, so come early if you want a seat. It’s wonderful to see Frank and Maureen carrying on the musical tradition so long associated with the house, and in a very short period of time they have stamped their own warm personalities on this beguiling little pub.

This is a clubby type of bar. Frank seemed to know everyone and they all seem to know each other. It’s just one of those places, charming outside and friendly inside, which even a perfect stranger going for the first time will enjoy, feel at home in and find so agreeable he may want to stay longer than he had originally planned for.

P.S. In my report on Dumigan’s Bar, I mentioned that they were the proud holders of ‘The Po’ for having the best float in the 1989 Gala. Well, this year, 1990, Fiddler’s Green won the coveted trophy. The following day, Saturday 21st July, the trophy was duly delivered by hearse complete with ‘The Po’ in a coffin, duly followed by Dumigan’s mourners, suitably attired in black.