Historic town centre hotel celebrating 200th anniversary

Members of the County Down Hounds assembled at the Downshire Arms for the traditional "stirrup cup" as in days gone by to mark the launch of the hotel's 200th anniversary celebrations. Pic by Paul Byrne Photography INBL1647-209EB

Members of the County Down Hounds assembled at the Downshire Arms for the traditional "stirrup cup" as in days gone by to mark the launch of the hotel's 200th anniversary celebrations. Pic by Paul Byrne Photography INBL1647-209EB

One of Banbridge’s best-known businesses is celebrating a remarkable milestone.

Members of the County Down Hounds recently rode into town to help the Downshire Arms Hotel launch its 200th anniversary celebrations.

Several huntsmen on horseback, accompanied by more than 20 hungry hounds, assembled at the Newry Street business to drink the “stirrup cup” - a tradition from days gone by - to mark the hotel’s magnificent milestone.

Built in 1816, the Downshire Arms was used as the second coach stop from Belfast to Dublin in the times before modern public transport.

The building, commissioned by Lord Downshire, is a fine example of an old Georgian coaching inn. Owned by the Heslip family for more than 50 years, it boasts a bar, restaurant and nine individually decorated bedrooms. The three-star hotel also caters for wedding receptions and business meetings.

Although modernisation has taken place over the years, the hotel still has many of its original features like the wide open fireplace in the lounge/bar area and the high moulded ceilings in the bedrooms.

Owner James Heslip was delighted to welcome members of the County Down Hounds back to the hotel for the “stirrup cup” - a tradition that used to take place every St Patrick’s Day before the hunt set off along Newry Street.

While many such traditions have been lost over the years, James is keen to recreate some key moments from the past two centuries to celebrate the hotel’s anniversary.

“The place opened in late winter 1816. That’s the best indication I can get from the history,” he explained. “There is no exact day for when it opened that I can find, so we are just planning to hold events throughout the next year.”

James continued: “There are a number of things that have happened over the years that we would like to be able to recreate - like a stage coach stopping at the hotel, but there are obviously health and safety and insurance issues to consider these days.

“The rugby club used to get changed at the hotel before running up the road to play their games, so that’s something we would like to try and recreate as well.

“The only thing we won’t be recreating are the 1816 prices!”

The hotel’s programme of anniversary events is expected to be finalised early in the New Year.

For more information about the Downshire Arms Hotel log on to www.downshirearmshotel.com or call 028 4066 2638.