Restaurateur and bar owner Norman Carmichael ‘ahead of his time’

Norman Carmichael has died aged 81
Norman Carmichael has died aged 81

Leading Northern Ireland hotelier and restaurateur Norman Carmichael who has died after a short illness.

His eldest son Keith on Wednesday paid tribute to his father’s entrepreneurial skills which took him from being a door-to-door drapery salesman in Co Tyrone to owning a chain of restaurants and pubs across Northern Ireland.

The 81-year-old died on Tuesday.

Keith, 52, said his father was “a self-made man, who got into the entertainment side of things by running dances in Cookstown town hall”.

“My father was ahead of his time. He bought his first bar in 1973 in Dungannon, the White Heather Lounge, which were difficult days with the Troubles. In those days of the Troubles none of the big bands were coming over, but my father got some big names over to Dungannon.”

He said his father then had “the vision to move out of Cookstown and Dungannon during the Troubles because he had three sons”.

Mr Carmichael went on to buy the Railway Bar in Holywood, rebuild The Stables in Groomsport making it Northern Ireland’s first £1million bar-restaurant, and add the Groomsport Inn to the company chain.

He later bought the Tidy Doffer restaurant at Ravernet near Hillsborough, the Hillside in Hillsborough, the Bryansburn in Bangor, Morrisons in Belfast city centre and the Ross Park Hotel (formerly The Country House) at Kells near Ballymena.

Keith said in 2007 when six businesses of the Carmichael chain were sold, “everyone thought my father was going to take it a bit easier – but not a bit, he missed the buzz”.

“People were his thing. He did the PR, I am not going to say he did the work, but he was the front man,” he said.

“At the height when we had eight businesses and we employed more than 600 people he knew every member of staff.

“I would have only known the ones in the businesses I looked after, but he knew even the staff doing one shift a week.

“That was his strength because he was so into people. He loved to pull up a chair beside people in the bars and have a chat to make them feel welcome. He was our business partner, our good friend and even in later years he had a big say and an influence.”

Mr Carmichael was a staunch Ulster Unionist, loyal order member and dedicated fan of Tottenham Hotspur.

Keith said the family wanted to pay tribute to the McDermott Unit at the Ulster Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where his father had been treated.

Mr Carmichael will be buried after a service in Derryloran Parish Church, Cookstown on Friday at 1pm. He is survived by his wife Joan and sons Keith, Ian and Derek.