Couple behind famed Billy Andy’s bar near Larne retire after 32 years

The couple behind a popular Co Antrim bar say goodbye to locals as they retire after 32 years.

Richard Hunter left behind a career as a convenience store to run Billy Andy’s in December 1990, but the bar had been a staple of the area near Larne for generations.

The pub is one of the few original licensed liquor grocers still in the country. Dating back to 1847, it was founded by William Andrew McWilliams (Billy Andy) and his sister, Sarah Agnes, and passed down through generations of their family.

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Although officially known as Mounthill Bar, it has always been known locally as Billy Andy’s – so Richard decided to stick with that name.

“Before I took over, the pub had been in the same family since 1847,” Richard told Belfast Live.

A photo of William Andrew McWilliams (Billy Andy) in Billy Andy’s Licensed Spirit Grocers pub.

“When I went to buy it it was advertised as being from Robert Harry and he was the guy who bought it at the time, and the actual license said it was called the Mounthill Bar but all the locals knew it as Billy Andy’s, after its original owner William Andrew McWilliams.

“I just thought everyone knows him as Billy Andy, we should just stick with that name instead of Mounthill Bar.

“When I bought it in 1990 it was just the bar and the room next to it was a shop, it used to be a general grocery store.”

A little over twenty years ago, Richard’s wife, Anna Arnold, became involved in the affairs of Billy Andy’s.

She said that over the years they had enjoyed the locals and the “old characters” who stopped by from time to time.

“At the time there was a bunch of characters that would be here. There was a guy called Craig who had a little slanted hat and a beard, he was a Scotsman. He worked at Canyon in Mallusk and sat in this corner and smoke like a soldier,” Anna continued.

Richard added: “When he moved here he was looking for a house to live in and his criteria was where is the nearest pub he likes. He came here, liked the pub and bought a house just in down the road so it was on the way home from work.

The public lounge of Billy Andy’s Licensed Spirit Grocers.

“We called him the Grumpy Old Man because he would just sit in the corner, smoke a cigarette and do his crossword.

“About twenty years ago word got around that we were putting on an extension. Two old boys came over one night and mentioned it, and asked what we were building. I told them it was going to be a box of night.

“I wish I hadn’t said that because they quickly had their drinks, had gone down the road and the news spread like wildfire. We had to bring the neighbors over and explain to them that it would be a restaurant, not a nightclub. “

The extension to their restaurant was completed in 2002, and Billy Andy’s is one of the few establishments in Northern Ireland mentioned in the Michelin guide “Eating Out In Pubs”.

As well as making sure they serve great food, it was also important to Richard and Anna that the restaurant had the same authentic atmosphere as the bar.

Richard said: “Each time we were building the restaurant, we wanted to maintain the same kind of rustic feel throughout the place.

The restaurant at Billy Andy’s Licensed Spirit Grocers.

“Much of the materials used are salvaged. The floors in the restaurant are from the Custom House in Belfast and the bricks for the wall are from the former Laharna Hotel in Larne.

“On a Sunday we could do anything up to 200 seats. We were open seven days a week and it was always really busy. But once the pandemic hit that changed completely. As we we’re so far here, it’s just harder to bring in chefs.

Billy Andy’s is popular with tourists and locals alike, with many visitors coming from America, Australia and New Zealand.

Since it’s quite remote, they took advantage of the opening of a four-bedroom B&B upstairs about eight years ago, which Anna says is fully booked most weekends.

She said the important aspects that set the pub apart are its musical offerings and the curios and art that adorn the walls.

Anna said: “Music is very important here. Our diddly-dee boys as I call them, they’ve been with us for over 12 years and they’ve never let us down.

“There’s about four or five core members and then the rest are like session musicians coming and going all afternoon. They’re absolutely brilliant, they’ve been really good to us, very loyal.

“We had banknotes from all over the world on the walls. We were getting a lot of people from America, Australia and New Zealand. I think it’s part of the charm of the place to have the pictures , trinkets and banknotes in place.”

Richard and Anna, owners of Billy Andy’s Licensed Spirit Grocers for 32 years

After retirement, Richard and Anna said they found it hard to let go, but looked forward to their future.

“My daughter said last night – it’s not just a pub, it’s been her home since she was about 12,” Anna added.

“His kids are now almost six and three and they love coming here, the space they have and the big living room we have upstairs. Everyone comes here for Christmas, I’ve had about 15 people for Christmas lunch It’s the end of a zone.

“We were tired, we just wanted to stop and enjoy some time with our family and our grandchildren.”

Richard said: “We were looking forward to going on vacation too! But it’s really strange, it’s hard to put the place down.”

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