Margaret is the best behind the bar in NI

Margaret is the best behind the bar in NI

20 November 2013

TUCKED away in an idyllic lakeside setting is a pub that is more than off the beaten track. There’s no pub phone, certainly no Twitter account, and if you google it you won’t be much the wiser.

But none of that matters at Downpatrick’s Lakeside Inn. Behind the bar is Margaret Ferguson, a woman who knows what keeps her punters happy and coming back for more. So good is she at her job that she beat off competition from across Northern Ireland to be named Best Barperson at the recent Pubs of Ulster gala awards in the La Mon Hotel.

With the traditional country pub in her family since the 1890s, Margaret impressed the judges with the range of community events she hosts, and the fact she has a ready listening ear for her customers.

Running through her darts nights, craft clubs, table quizzes and barbecues, ‘memory nights’ complete with Tilly lamps, and an open fire often at the middle of it all, Margaret explained how important it was to be proactive in her trade.

“It is very much part of the community,” said Margaret of the Lakeside Inn. “I think I put so much into it and work so hard as it’s all set up to bring the community together.”

Margaret said she was lucky to be doing a job she really loved and described the Pubs of Ulster award was a “real honour”.

“I could not believe it,” she said. “It was really nice to be acknowledged for my customers’ sake. I have had so many text messages, so many congratulations.

“We are a family run business and together we work hard to ensure our customers feel they have a home from home at The Lakeside Inn.

“It’s wonderful that a country pub has been recognised on a national level such as this and I hope our success will inspire other country pubs to strive for excellence.”

The recent gala awards night in the La Mon Hotel marked the end of an extensive search for the best pubs in a range of categories across Northern Ireland. Judges subjected the finalists to mystery shoppers and in-depth interviews, and were particularly torn when it came to the Best Barperson category.

In the end Margaret and Maggie McGaughey, who works at the Front Page Bar in Ballymena, were crowned joint winners in this category. In addition to Margaret’s win on the night, the bar was also shortlisted for the Charity Initiative of the Year award.

A former coaching inn, post office and spirit grocers, Margaret has traced the Lakeside Inn building, which is near the Ballydugan Mill, back to 1840. She herself has been at the helm for seven years since the death of her mother, but has always been involved with the pub.

“My grandfather took over in 1899 — Thomas Hutton,” she explained. “His brother Bernard Hutton had it in 1890. My mum Meta Hutton married William Dickson and the bar was often known as Meta’s or Hutton’s.

“Meta was a real personality, she always knew where everywhere was, she had a real memory for travelling. Every Sunday she would picnic at all the scenic places she could get to. She was an absolute character.

“Meta was a very sociable person. She knew everything about everybody. If someone came in she didn’t know, she knew them before they left.

“I would also like to mention how proud my mum would have been for me to have received this recognition. She would appreciate the hard work that goes into running the pub and valued her customers as highly as I do.”

Paying tribute to husband Geoffrey and daughter Anna, who works in the bar when not studying medicine, Margaret said: “I could not do it without good back up.

“I do not have a free Saturday from January 4 to May 1 with all the quizzes for all the charities here. I do not charge anything for these.”

By Margaret’s own admission there isn’t a huge variety of drinks at the Lakeside Inn. There’s no

alcopops, for instance. However, she says she does listen to what her customers want and orders accordingly. It’s the same flexible approach that will usually see her extend her opening hours, normally 7.30pm to 11.30pm, Monday to Saturday, when requested.

There’s no big strategy for the Lakeside Inn moving forward — just doing more of the same and doing it well.

“I know my customers, I know whether they want to chat or relax a bit,” she said. “You need to be a good listener. You also need to know if someone needs a wee quiet chat.”

The Lakeside Inn is located at 25 Lake Road, Downpatrick. For email updates on what’s going on contact