Dobbins Inn, in the heart of the historic town of Carrickfergus
Dobbins Inn Hotel
History & Hospitality in the Heart of Carrickfergus
The Norman knight Reginald D’Aubin was gifted some land in the shadow of the castle which his master Sir Hugh de Lacy had completed in 1200 and the tower house he built there became the Inn as we know it today, but what of its history? What of his descendents?
In 1315 Carrickfergus was attacked by Edward Bruce’s army and was swiftly overrun; but a body of men under John Logan slammed the castle gates and a siege began. In their number was Thomas Dobyn whose family feared for his safety since tales of Scottish prisoners being eaten by the defenders were being circulated by the townsfolk. They were reunited in August 1316 when the siege was lifted and at Dundalk in 1318 Bruce was defeated, hanged and quartered with a grisly portion sent to Carrickfergus where it was raised on a pike at the castle.
By 1401 Peter Dobyn was constable of the castle, his salary for the first year described as: “the profits of the town’s watermill, a liberty of £23-16-8d granted for the defence of the castle and one hundred cattle grazed free by the grace of the corporation”. In the century following, a succession of the family held civic office, becoming either Sheriff or Mayor.
During the Plantation of Ulster under King James the Dobbins’s Castle was shelter for those souls wishing to celebrate mass and during this period the “priest’s hole” was constructed and is visible today near reception. During this period one of the town’s most endearing ghost stories has its origins. Hugh Dobbin’s young wife fell in love with a handsome captain of foot stationed at the castle barracks. Dobbin, returning from the Tyrone rebellion, discovered the deception and “did put them to death with his sword” The unfortunate pair roam the castle, as Buttoncap and the old Inn, as Maude.
A few lines in the ancient work “Miskimmin’s History and Antiquities of Ireland” lend weight to the claim that the Inn is the oldest in Ulster when, writing of Mayor James Dobbin in 1662, says “He, though of ancient family, yet kept an Inn and sold ales” On 16th April 1642 the Dobbin children are playing near the shoreline when ships are sighted, soon many men in tartan march from the town, her brother tells young Eliza that General Monroe’s army are going to fight crown enemies at Newry. These scenes are vividly brought to mind when, as a mother herself, on 14th June 1690, with cousin Robert Clarke, she gazes in awe at the army of William of Orange disembarking from a fleet at the old landing stage near the castle. The men set off on their long march to an important battle at the Boyne river.
By 1702 only a few of the family were in the borough, Peter had bought land in London, William had left to find fortune in the new world and Stephen moved to Armagh county. In 1753 the Inn was a stout town house owned by the Seeds family and on February 21st with Britain at war with France, Sheriff John Seeds escorts French prisoners to Belfast. At Boneybefore soldiers under Commodore Francois Thurot land and soon they were being repelled in the high street. Seed’s wife Susanna tries to comfort her young family frightened by the fighting outside but young Thomas slips out only to find himself between the armies. Chevalier D’Estrees, a French officer breaks ranks, runs to the child and takes him to his distraught mother. The defenders, so moved by the officer’s gallantry, send a dispatch to Thurot commending D’Estrees. Books belonging to the boy were part of a find made during renovations to the Inn and are now on display in the Thomas Seed’s room.
April 1778 and a ship “the Ranger” captained by American privateer John Paul Jones lies off Carrick, the crew of a fishing boat is taken by Jones who captures the vessel “Drake” a naval rigger under Captain Burdon. The fishermen, amongst who is John Dobbin, are freed; the War of Independence touched these shores. Another uprising had the town as a backdrop for one of its concluding acts, 1798 and rebel leader Henry Joy McCracken with two comrades leave the safe house of David Bodle on the Cavehill. By daylight they approach Carrickfergus but are recognised by yeomanry under Sergeant Niblock. Realising that a compromise can be made the two parties retire to the old Inn but one young soldier, fearing the consequences, flees through the tunnel, returns with an officer and the fugitives are taken to Belfast where they are hanged in High street on July 17th The rising was over.
In the nineteenth century the building became two townhouses and remained thus until 1946 when they were converted to a hotel by the Mabbutt family. The most famous patrons were matinee idol Jack Hawkins and carpet tycoon Cyril Lord who regaled their guests at the Inn. Gaining a reputation for hospitality the hotel passed to the celebrated Betty & Joe Wilson, then to entrepreneur John McVeigh who brought about the maritime flavour.
The Inn was bought by local couple Maureen and Derek Fallis in 1978 who have now enjoyed over 40 successful years at the hotel. Their contribution to the local hospitality industry was recognised in 2018 when they were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Carrickfergus Business Awards.
The family link is now preserved by their daughter Kirsty who over the past decade has presided over a period of development and renovation of the hotel while still retaining the old world charm and atmosphere which established the hotel as an essential part of Carrickfergus life.
The culmination of these renovations occurred in 2019 when in conjunction with Carrickfergus Town Heritage Initiative (THI), Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund the hotel undertook a series of major heritage led restorations to discover how much of a previous 14th century castle may have remained at the site.
These restorations which were completed by a team of local tradesmen and advisors, involved the removal of the original plaster from the front of the building with the entrance half of the building restored to an original castle facade while the other half was restored to the original 15th century town house look.
The works which took 18 months to complete also included the full replacement of the hotel roof and all of hotels windows to a more traditional finish. Restoration work on the hotel’s two open fires was also completed to allow them to roar again through the winter months.
The works process uncovered stonework and wooden beams from the 15th century which drew both local and national attention from archaeologists and historians as well as capturing the imagination of the general public in Carrickfergus and beyond. These discoveries and developments, add a new chapter to the hotel’s already fascinating and unique story.
Following timber dating analysis, it was established that the building was as old as circa 1530, and at that time it was a residence for the Dobbin family. The building later became the main bakery for the town, and following its conversion to an RIC Barracks, a new frontage was erected causing it to lose its appearance of a tower house for over 150 years, which has now been restored.
As Dobbins Inn enters a new decade the business continues to go from strength to strength and the Fallis family look forward to welcoming guests to the hotel for many generations to come.