Family reign ends but Ulster Hotel not finished yet
THERE is a changing of the guard in Ipswich as long-established family businesses start changing hands.
The latest heritage changeover revolves around the Ulster Hotel in the centre of town.
Since 1934 the descendents of former Australia rugby league player Dan Dempsey have been pulling beers at the pub.
That stopped on Christmas Eve when his great grand-daughter Chloe Johnston served the last pint of ale.
It was a sad occasion for Chloe's parents, Peter and Bev, who resurrected the Ulster after the disastrous 2011 flood left the interior of the building in ruin.
They had taken on the family hotel from Bev's mother Norma, who had been running the Ulster with her husband Denis Flannery for almost 60 years.
In keeping with the hotel's links to rugby league, Denis also played for the Kangaroos.
In fairness, the Ulster's days in the Dempsey-Flannery family could easily have ended on January 11, 2011, when the Bremer burst its banks and flooded the Ipswich CBD.
After it receded the family realised they were in for a massive repair bill.
"The big u-shaped bar was lifted and twisted, refrigeration tanks popped out of the cellar and the floor had great holes in it - it was a mess," Peter Johnston said.
"Friends and family rallied to help and once it was cleaned up we decided that with some flood relief money we could modernise the old pub and give her a new life."
The fact that Peter was a leading local architect was a key to the project, and just 18 months after the flood the new boutique style Ulster opened for business again.
Mrs Johnston said that during the renovation project she gave her mother regular updates of the progress when she visited her at Nowlanvil Aged Care Facility.
"I made her a promise that the pub would reopen and it would stay open while she was alive," she said.
On January 13 last year Norma passed away and hundreds flocked into the Ulster to raise a toast to a great publican.
The Johnston family continued on with the hotel for the past year, even though both Bev and Peter had to combine their publican's role with demanding full-time jobs.
Daughter Chloe and even teenage son Declan gave them a hand, but in the end the pressures told.
"Our daughter is midway through a law degree and our son is entering his final years of college, you can understand that it was all becoming too much," Mrs Johnston said.
"This is a great old pub and she needs a full-time publican who can love her and devote the time needed into making this a successful, long-running enterprise. It was sad to close, but we knew we weren't the right people to do that. We were actually accidental publicans acting in a caretaker role.
"We couldn't turn our backs on our real jobs and we couldn't expect the children to continue to roll in and help out."
As for the future of the Ulster, that is up in the air.
There is no doubt, however, that many will knock on the Johnstons' door inquiring how they can keep the heritage of one of the town's most famous pubs going.
Until then the Ulster's doors will remain shut, waiting for her new owners to come along.