The Castle Bar on the Diamond In Belturbet is celebrating its 10th birthday, with the dynamic Ray and Diane Slaughter at the helm. The Bar has long since become the home of the sports fans in the area and the friendly atmosphere is further complimented by a wonderful dining experience, Photos: Sean McMahon

A toast to 10 years at the Castle in Belturbet

The Castle Sports & Gastro Bar in Belturbet has become a popular and beloved local institution ever since it first opened its doors almost a decade ago.

Combining the vibrant atmosphere of a sports bar with the culinary sophistication of a gastropub and restaurant, the family-run venue has earned a well-deserved reputation as a go-to destination for sports enthusiasts, food connoisseurs, and families alike.

Now, as it now approaches its 10th anniversary, on June 14, the establishment and its owners - Ray and Diane Slaughter - are gearing up for a celebration to honour their patrons and reflect on a what has been a undoubted decade of success.

To celebrate their milestone anniversary, The Castle is planning a spectacular weekend-long event packed with activities and specials. The festivities kick off on Friday night, June 14, with a VIP reception for long-time patrons and karaoke. Saturday, June 15, will be dedicated to hosting a barbecue as well as live music on Saturday; and the weekend will culminate on Sunday, June 16, with a massive family fun day.

“People, our customers, they’ve been amazing, supportive of us and the bar and restaurant, at every step,” says Ray, who reflects on the opportunity they took to put on the Erneside town’s social and hospitality scene.

Of the anniversary celebration, Diane states: “It’s our way of saying thank you to our customers, to the community, to everyone who has been there for us over the years.”

The Castle has always prided itself on being more than just a place to watch the big game.

Ray and Diane envisioned from the start a comfortable and accessible venue where high-quality food and beverages co-existed with the excitement of watching live sports from around the world.

The husband and wife team have stayed true to that vision, relying on their combined wealth of experience in hospitality, to steer the business through tricky times such as Covid, and not just deliver but enhance The Castle’s overall offering year on year.

Having operated both the landmark Mad Ass and The Duckin’ Stool pubs for 11 years previous, the Slaughters transformed the former Diamond Bar into a modern split-level lounge, and in years that followed adding a professional kitchen, 60-seater restaurant upstairs, and regular live music also.

It’s not only the bar and menu that’s grown but, from a starting staff of three, The Castle crew now counts to more than a dozen.

The Castle’s kitchen, meanwhile, run by chef Kamil Podgajny, is always buzzing with the latest seasonal dishes, complete with one of the most extensive menus for vegan and vegetarian options anywhere in the region.

The Castle’s commitment to culinary excellence, using only the finest local produce, has been recognised nationally. It resulted in the team winning the Irish Restaurant Award for ‘Innovator of the Year’ 2024 Cavan/Ulster.

Diane is amazed at just at how quickly the 10 years have “flown past”.

For starters their “kids” are no longer children. All have grown up, and it is a point of pride for Ray and Diane that Ryan, Lauren, Mark and Katie have all cut their teeth in the working world with them.

“It’s something we’re very proud of, that they appreciate everything that’s been done. They’re very proud too,” says Diane.

“We’d built up a fantastic reputation as a sports bar before opening here, and our vision was always to grow that, getting the bar right first, before later introducing food.”

The Castle first opened its kitchen shortly after Covid hit. The project had been in the pipeline for several years. Though restrictions posed their own worry, The Castle and its remarkably resilient team of staff adapted, providing an outdoor dining space and even successfully applying for planning permission for a rooftop bar area capable of offering stunning skyline views and additional seating.

This year also saw The Castle pivot to welcoming two wedding receptions, catering for guests in their upstairs restaurant, which offers unrivalled panoramic views of the West Cavan countryside. Ray previously worked at the nearby Slieve Russell Hotel in Conference and Banqueting, and later on the luxury transatlantic liner, the QEII.

So he knows a little something about setting the bar high and meeting those standards as a matter of course.

Diane also worked in the hospitality, and in more recent years completed studies to match the demands of running the back-of-house.

“We’re very well designed for a small and intimate wedding,” outlines Ray. “With my background I’m very clued into that, ask the right questions, and tailor things to suit their needs. It’s their day, and we were honoured to be part of it. It’s the extra touches. We have a fantastic quality restaurant here. Pauric Dolan was our initial head chef, he really got the ball rolling with us, set the standards, and we’ve only grown from there.”

But what truly sets The Sports Haven apart is its unparalleled sports viewing experience. With more than half a dozen high-definition screens strategically placed throughout, patrons never miss a moment of the action, whether it’s the World Cup, Super Sunday, the All-Ireland or the final nine of a major championship.

Liverpool mad Ray himself has created quite the stir on social media, and earlier this year videos of him breaking the famed goal-scoring bell, and later his grandson Eoghan ringing the same, went viral online.

Ray loves the “banter” with customers. Inside, the walls of the pub are decked out with one of the most impressive collections of sporting memorabilia seen anywhere. It all adds to The Castle’s unique charm.

“It’s been a great 10 years. It’s had its up and downs. Covid knocked the wind out of everyone. Hospitality has changed. Going out is now more occasion driven,” explains Ray, but says throughout it all, their customers have stood by them.

“We have generations coming through the door to us. What was a Communion is now a Confirmation, or years on an 18th birthday. There’s been 21sts, engagement celebrations, anniversaries, you name it. The Castle is as much part of their families as they’ve become part of ours.”

Dog owners themselves - Sandy and Bella - The Castle is canine friendly too, another string to the pub and restaurant’s ever-impressive bow. That openness and friendly welcome to all has been key to The Castle capitalising on what is a growing market, especially among those visiting the town from cruisers on the River Erne.

As The Castle celebrates its 10th anniversary, Ray, Diane and the team remains as committed as every to providing an exceptional dining and sports viewing experience to their customers, ensuring that it continue to be a beloved destination for high-quality food and drink for years to come.

“It’s exciting,” says Diane of what the future holds.