McConville's Bar

Vol. 10 No. 1 - 2013

McConville's Bar, Portadown

by My great-grandfather, Henry McAnallen

John McConville
John McConville
McConville' pub

My brother Martin and I sold the McConville's Bar in 2006 to Andy Robinson, Portadown. It was a wrench as the firm had been in our family from 1865. My daughter Claire, now 29, worked casually in the bar and was the fifth generation of our family to have worked in the place - quite a feat.

My great-grandmother was Rose Anne McConville from Ballynagarrick, who married another McConville - Henry from Ballydugan in 1871. This couple had 6 children and Sarah, my grandmother, was born in 1884.

My grandfather John McAnallen was born in Aughatarra, Armagh, and around 1910 he was sent to help run the newly establish Mandeville Arms - McConville's Bar as it is today - on the corner of West Street/Mandeville Street. It is said that some of the same batch of timber used to build the Titanic was used in the Mandeville Arms, but this cannot be authenticated. The original bar had been situated in West Street in much smaller premises.

John McConville
My grandfather John who died at 93

I remember my grandparents, John and Sarah, with great affection. John was a tiny man but made "of good stuff" and ran the business in a most excellent fashion - the bar gaining a very good reputation.

Recently, in 2010, I visited the mud/wattle house that John was born in at Aughatarra, Armagh, and realised that we come into the world with nothing and go out with nothing. However my grandparents produced a family of 8 children: (1) Mary - chemist, (2) Harry who ran the bar, (3) Jackie - doctor in Nottingham, (4) Alice - a nun in France, (5) Gerard - doctor in Portadown, (6) Paddy - my father an optician in Portadown, (7) Frankie - also helped Harry run the bar, and (8) Josie - who married Denis O'Neill who owned the Cedar Bar in Lurgan. Paddy, who was my father, was born in 1915 and he died in 2003.

As a child in the 1950s, I often went around to the bar and played upstairs with my cousins, uncles and aunts. It had a maze of bedrooms and corridors which totally amazed us all. Uncle Frank, my father's brother, was great fun and told us how the house was haunted - by the Duke of Mandeville!

Christmas Day was a magnificent occasion when all the kids and parents congregated in the lovely rooms upstairs. The children - maybe up to 20 - were always fed first. The men spent a few hours down in the bar - no money changed hands and all the women helped Maggie Forbes our housekeeper to prepare the Christmas dinner - goose, turkey, beef and ham. Her "piece de resistance" was her own sherry trifle - made with 100 year old vintage sherry from Portugal! Wonderful stuff indeed. My mother, Bernadine, now 90 and in fine health, makes a very good job of preparing the same trifle.

Wonderful memories come flooding back to me as a young lad growing up in Portadown. In the 1960s we looked forward to the big days like the 12th July when our bar was packed to the rafters. I made more tips on this day than even Christmas Eve. The show fight in Scarva was also a big day on the 13th - but why did Billy always win?

Sadly, however, "the troubles" came and upset my family greatly. We were always known as a bar where all creeds, races and denominations could come in for a few jars in peace. Politics was not allowed to be discussed. Bin men drank with bankers and it was always a haven of tranquillity in a town otherwise ravaged by conflict.

Eamon Malloy

During this difficult period one thing remained constant - our Eamon. Eamon Molloy from Derryadd joined us in 1955 as an apprentice barman aged 15. Singlehandedly he ran the bar for a full 50 years, and after the death of Uncle Frank and Harry he was appointed manager. Eamon to this day is "family". No words of gratitude can ever repay him for his total dedication to our bar. He nursed Frank and Harry when they were dying. He gained the respect of anyone who ever met him. Even rowdy customers, having consumed a little too much, thanked him when he gently sent them "home for your tea".

As I left the bar in 2006 with much sadness, having sold the business after 141 years in the family, I looked over my shoulder to see Eamon following me. I asked him where he was going and his reply was "when all the McAnallens leave, I leave."

Everything in life comes to an end, and so it was with my family and the Mandeville Arms. It was so much more than a building. I look upon it as an institution where sons, grandsons, and great grandsons drank their tipple in the old snugs - how those snugs could tell so much.

Haunted or not?

In 1974 Frank was dying in Purdysburn. He was always our favourite uncle: the one who scared us about "the Duke of Mandeville" who walked upstairs in the dead of night. When he was in hospital, I was left to mind the building. At 3.45am I heard footsteps above my bedroom - even though I was on the highest floor. My mother phoned me at 8am to say Uncle Frank had died. I said, "Did he die at 3.45am?" She replied, "Yes. How did you know that?"

On leaving the bar at night we always looked back to see if all the lights had been switched off. One mid-summer we saw smoke come out of the chimney. The date was the anniversary of the death of the Duke of Mandeville!

The most fascinating event ever was when Eamon was leaving the bar one night after all the customers had left, maybe 1am. In the bar area was an old ship's phone, installed by Uncle Henry in the 1950s. At meal times, Maggie the housekeeper would lift a phone upstairs, press a button on the wall in her kitchen, and when the phone downstairs rang a barman would lift it and be told to come up for his dinner. This downstairs phone could not ring out unless the phone upstairs was lifted off the receiver, the button pushed and the call made. Imagine the situation. Upstairs had been sealed off by an iron bar for many years so that no one could go upstairs; therefore no one could have been upstairs. As Eamon proceeded to leave the premises, the downstairs phone rang out three times. The date - you guessed it - the anniversary of the death of the Duke of Mandeville!

The Tichborne Claimant

During WW1 a gas lighter made in the shape of a portly gentleman was built on the bar counter. He was known as "the Tichborne Claimant" – after the fraudster who came from Australia claiming to be the missing heir to the Tichborne baronetcy. He failed to convince the courts and served a long prison sentence for perjury. But people still mistake him for Churchill, due to his shape and the cigar in his mouth! The gas lighter was installed to save men using matches during WW1. Apparently chemicals used in the production of matches were needed for munitions to help with the war effort.

The Bar was a hotel in the 1930s, catering principally for the cattle dealers who came from the mainland to attend fairs throughout the north. Deals were done in the snugs and concluded with a handshake and a few glasses of Powers or Bushmills.

Some products were bottled and prepared by ourselves. Bottling Guinness, or stout as it was always referred to then, was a laborious chore for those concerned. Firstly the bottles were soaked in a large vat, dried and then filled on a rack which filled 12 bottles at a time. They were then capped with “tin tops”, labelled and left for a full week or two at steady room temperature. I never acquired a taste for it but it was reckoned to be the best stout in the town.

McConville' whiskey
McConville's whiskey

We also bottled our own “McConville’s” Pure Pot Still Old Irish Whiskey and Navy Rum. The rum came originally from Jamaica at 100º proof; this was reduced down to 70º proof by my family, wearing masks as the fumes were so powerful.

A bottle of “Flu Rum” was kept for medicinal purposes only behind the bar – this was the Jamaican Rum in its undiluted form - at 100º proof! Only those customers who could prove they were close to death or in need of “the cure” were sold a half’un of this most potent of drinks. Those who asked for a second half’un were usually barred! My late father always laughed at the man second from the right in the main photograph of the bar as he reckoned from his stance, propped up against the wall, that he may just have had a his fair quota of the magic “Flu Rum”.

Everything in life comes to an end, and so it was with my family and the Mandeville Arms. It was so much more than a building. I look upon it as an institution where sons, grandsons, and great grandsons drank their tipple in the old snugs - how those snugs could tell so much.


Happy memories of good days gone by indeed. Great men served their time in our institution – Joe Fearon, Jimmy Donnelly, who famously told a young Pat Jennings that he would never make a goalie, his son Martin and the ever-reliable Peter Corrigan who was a very able deputy to our “own Eamon” A great bar, great staff and great memories of days gone by.