Highways founder can’t even look at the sorry state of now derelict hotel

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A FORMER Larne hotelier has added his support to pleas for action to prevent further deterioration of the Highways Hotel.

Retired businessman Crawford Magill, who founded what was once Larne’s premier hotel nearlly 40 years ago, said it saddens him that it has been allowed to decay since it closed in July, 2010.

Mr Magill describes the demise of the Highways as a “tragedy” and says that now: “I can’t even look at it.”

Unfortunately, the property is one of Larne’s most prominent traffic routes and it’s lamentable state was raised in the Larne council chamber by Ald Winston Fulton, who described the site as “an overgrown mess”, in common with waste ground opposite the Linn Road shop which had become “an eyesore, with rubbish, weeds, dog fouling etc”.

Ald Fulton recently complained to Council: “I raised these two problems a year ago and not a blade of grass or weed has been cut in that year.”

He asked if the owners could be forced to clean up the grounds, to which officers replied that local authority powers were limited. Officials had visited both sites and had reported that there would be no grounds on which to serve notices at present under either the Rats and Mice Destruction Act 1919 or The Litter (NI Order 1994).

Ald Fulton was also told: “Council have previously contacted the current known property owners or agents for these sites and requested that measures be taken to clean up the sites. The land owner at Linn Road took action to clear the site some two years ago, but as yet no response has been received from the property owner for the Highways.”

The Highways is presently owned by a bank after its last owner, Sonah (NI), went into liquidation.

The sorry state of the once majestic former manse and grounds saddens Mr Magill, who in his late Eighties, is rightly proud of the once thriving business he and his family built up from scratch between 1973 and 1995.

“I’m not boasting when I say that it was one of the best hotels in the country. I was told that by travellers, tourists and guests from all over the world. We were so busy that we had stop taking bookings on a Thursday for Friday and Saturday.”

With its tastefully landscaped and beautifully maintained gardens, the Highways was one of the Province’s most popular venues for weddings receptions. “There was one June when we had a wedding every single day and we took bookings on Christmas Day for the following Christmas Day,” Mr Magill recalled. “We had functions for all the groups and organisations in Larne and district who came back year after year.”

The business was built with the investment of long hours on the part of the owner, a former grocer, who ran the hotel with his wife Mary and helping hands from their five children.

“It was a big undertaking. There were nights when I didn’t get to bed until four in the morning and many times I would be having breakfast with the guests never having been to bed at all,” said Mr Magill who, for thousands of visitors was the friendly face of the Highways to whom nothing was every too much trouble and no detail went unchecked.

“I never had to advertise,” he said. “The business was built on personal recommendation. When people complimented us on the food or on their stay I would tell them: ‘There is one thing you can do for me and that is to tell your friends’.”

It is a far cry from the sorry state of the hotel and grounds today. “The Highways was very dear to me. I loved being there and meeting people from different countries. It didn’t feel like work at all,” said Mr Magill. “I can’t even look at it now,” he added. “It’s a tragedy, because the potential is still there.”