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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
Breathing easy in Ireland's oldest pub
Johnny Caldwell
BBC News website

Grace Neill's
Grace Neill's is the oldest pub in Ireland
Just because it's the oldest bar in Ireland doesn't mean Grace Neill's in Donaghadee will get any leeway when the smoking ban comes into force in Northern Ireland next week.

The bar, which is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest place to quench your thirst on the island, will have to call time on people lighting up from Monday.

But while some customers will grumble and others will breathe a collective sigh of relief, there's no disputing that the introduction of the ban is one of the biggest changes watering holes in this part of the world have ever experienced.

Despite its longevity, the bar owners have been looking to a future in which smoky bar rooms will be assigned to history, and as such appear to be well prepared for the introduction of "the ban".

Dawn Hammond
I can't wait for it and think I'll feel a lot healthier as a result - no doubt about it
Dawn Hammond
Bar worker

Hans Arthur Jnr, who runs the County Down pub with his father, is optimistic that their takings won't be "too badly affected" after 30 April - a date which no doubt looms large on the minds of publicans from Strabane to Strangford.

"We're quite lucky because we've an extensive menu and it's been shown if you do food then the smoking ban shouldn't affect you too much as a lot more people will actually go to pubs serving food, whereas they mightn't have in the past," said Hans.

"We've also a large outside area where smokers can go, so I think we're going to be okay. There's actually a few bar staff that are actually planning to stop smoking on the day the ban comes in.

"Of course, there have been a few jokes from some of our old regulars who have been asking us to make sure it's nice and comfortable outside for them, but no real adverse comments about the whole thing."

Tommy Trimble gave up smoking about 30 years ago
Tommy Trimble gave up smoking about 30 years ago

The reaction of punters at the bar is mixed, but customers - who could be forgiven for being set in their ways given their choice of local - are in the main behind the plans to make public houses in Northern Ireland smoke-free.

Tommy Trimble gave up smoking about 30 years ago.

Speaking as a heart patient who likes an occasional drink he said :"It's definitely not doing me any good standing here with people smoking around.

"I'm definitely in favour of the smoking ban, although to be honest I never thought I'd see the day. But now that it's here, I'm glad of it.

Walker Simpson, who makes no bones about the fact that he's a smoker, thinks the ban will take away the atmosphere of his local and other pubs.

"If you want to smoke, you should go into the back room or have another room designated for smokers, but without that sort of arrangement, I think pubs won't be the same," he said.

But few people will be able to argue against somebody like barmaid Dawn Hammond - although not a smoker the fumes she inhales each weekend must equate to scores of cigarettes.

Walker Simpson makes no bones about the fact that he's a smoker
Walker Simpson makes no bones about the fact that he's a smoker

"I go home like a like dirty smelly old ashtray and on Sunday I wake and feel that I'm a heavy smoker," she said.

"I can't wait for it and think I'll feel a lot healthier as a result - no doubt about it."

What Grace Neill would have made of the ban, we might never know.

The 'might' is because local legend says the first owner of the bar which bears her name is believed to still lurk around the optics, and may make her spirited opinion on the subject heard some night.

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