It sits in what used to be an alley way off Royal Avenue, but a few buildings were knocked down and now Kellys sits in a square beside Castlecourt, a major Belfast shopping centre. It provides pub food and traditional music sessions. It remains resolutely old-fashioned, with vaulted ceiling and elbow-worn bar and is crammed with bric-a-brac.
Kelly's Cellars is the oldest licensed premises in Belfast. The original two-storey pub was built in 1720 by Belfast merchant Hugh Kelly who kept it as a bonded warehouse in which rum, gin and whiskey were his mainstays. It was a meeting place for Henry Joy McCracken and the United Irishmen when they were planning the 1798 Rising.
In February 2015 it was reported that the Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland) proposed delisting 17 Belfast buildings, including Kelly's Cellars, subject to review by the Historic Buildings Council and Belfast City Council. The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society declared that "despite their present condition, all buildings currently proposed for delisting contribute to the value of Belfast’s fragile built heritage and are important resources to promote tourism, economic investment and social regeneration". In March 2015 Belfast city councillors vowed to fight the Department of Environment over plans to remove protective listed status from Kelly's Cellars, now one of eight properties which the department has indicated that it plans to delist. As part of the significant backlash against the proposal to delist Kelly's Cellars, an American lady, Meghan Finlay (née Rice) of Massachusetts, set up an online petition to stop it, based on the pub's historical significance. The petition attracted more than 2,000 signatures and brought to international attention the fight to maintain the listed status of Kelly's Cellars. The decision to strip the pub of its protected status has since been reversed. On August 25, 2015 following the campaign victory, via their official Facebook page Kelly's Cellars released a statement of thanks to all who had supported their cause:
"To all our friends, near and far!
It is with great pleasure (and no small relief!) that we have just learned that Environment Minister Mark H Durkan announced the new listed buildings listing in Belfast, and that Kelly's Cellars is to RETAIN its listed status! A piece of Belfast's heritage and history today avoided the executioner's axe, and we can continue to enjoy the music, the warmth and the welcome of Kelly's.
In between cheers and whoops of joy, we at Team Kelly's offer our sincerest thanks to all of you who spoke out on our behalf, with a special mention to Meghan Finlay who brought the petition online to save our status, and all of you who took the time to sign it. Today's good news would not have come without your support. You spoke - and you were heard! Sláinte!"
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