Antrim town's very own Queens (and Kings!) of the Silver Dollar

AS hospitality providers in Antrim prepare to throw open their doors following the lifting of the latest coronavirus lockdown, we take a look at one of the town’s most enduring family businesses.

Antrim has never been short of places to eat, and it’s a tradition that has endured down the years.

In 2017, the town lost Cecilia Madden, nee O’Neill, one of two sisters who started one of the most popular eateries in the town in the 1940s.

Cecelia was mother to Eugene, Louise, Margaret and Francis and to this day, the family runs Madden’s Bar on High Street, which was opened by their father Francis.

The O’Neill sisters, Sadie and Cecilia, first set up their café business in Market Square in premises beside McAleese’s Pub, now the location of the DV8 clothes store and named it the Lilac Cafe, in 1945.

The menu was simple - coffee, tea, soft drinks, milk shakes, iced drinks, sandwiches, scones and pastries - with Cecilia often having to travel to Belfast to collect the buns!

It was a successful business and the sisters worked hard.

But the premises were small - four tables with chairs - and the opportunity came along to move to the Castle Cafe on 51 High Street in the mid 1950s.

Ice cream was made on the premises and O’Neill’s Ice Cream became famous.

Queues would form along the street at a quick service hatch on a Sunday, stretching as far as Young’s Garage, where Iceland now stands.

At the weekend, dances took place in nearby Hall’s Hotel, a popular venue which attracted crowds of people.

Some would come into the cafe for coffee or ice cream, the centre of social activity where young people would congregate.

As Margaret Madden remarked back in 2019: “People were easier to please in those days!”

As the demand for alcohol increased, it was obvious that the pub business was the way forward.

Sadie married and moved away to Australia and another sister, Christine came into the business, eventually branching out and taking over the Barleycorn Bar, formerly known as the Copper Kettle.

The Castle Café and the Fireside Café, which had since become the Silver Dollar cafe and pub, finally developed into Madden’s, which has gone from strength to strength over the years.

The Queen of the Silver Dollar was a popular country anthem in the 1970s.

“My daddy always wanted a house at the top of the town and his own pub, a place called The Silver Dollar, and he achieved it all,” said Margaret.

Her late parents lived at Northlands, an historic property at the top of Fountain Street.

“There were so many characters and so many people we remember, fantastic staff members, especially people like Margaret McCrea and Patsy Anderson, who have since passed away.

“Patsy was a big Elvis fan. When she died he wore black and she wouldn’t allow anything on the jukebox except for Elvis, she even changed her name to Presley, so she was also known as Patsy Presley.

“Lily Maguire was another lady who worked there.”

*If you have any pictures or memories of old Antrim places or characters, please call 028 94426224 or email editor@antrimguardian.co.uk

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