(In terms of food history, we’ve previously looked at the city’s oldest restaurants, the first Chinese restaurants, the first Italian restaurants, the first pizzerias and the first Indian restaurants)
This is part two of our series looking at the history of Vegetarianism in Dublin, primarily focusing on restaurants and cafes. Part One began in the 1860s and finished up in the early 1920s.
We pick up the story in the 1930s…
Frank Wyatt, editor of Vegetarian News and Secretary of the London Vegetarian Society, gave a talk in January 1933 on Vegetarianism in the Mansion House. The Irish Times (17 Jan) noted that the meeting was mostly made up of women. Wyatt, a vegetarian of twenty years standing, told the room that he was ‘satisfied that he was a healthier man than any flesh eater’.
Patrick Campbell (aka Quidnunc) interviewed Florence H. Gourlay, honorary treasurer of the Dublin Vegetarian Society for An Irishman’s Diary on 5 March 1951. Gourlay admitted that the organisation only had 33 members (an increase of 1 since 1949!) but she knew of 104 vegetarians altogether in the Republic. It was noted that while Belfast had a vegetarian restaurant, Dublin did not.
while Dublin had no purely vegetarian restaurant, hotels and restaurants generally were becoming more sympathetic towards their needs and could usually provide vegetarian meals if notice was given beforehand. Most of the members agree that a specialist restaurant would be a step forward but this would take time as well as a ‘lot of hard work and some capital’.
All changed the following year with the arrival of Good Karma at 4 Great Strand Street. As far as I can work out, this was the first purely vegetarian restaurant in the city since the College Vegetarian Restaurant closed its doors in 1922. It was opened by Jas Adams, Peter Lawson and Robert and Aaron Bartlett.
long room with wooden pillers and a cosily dim glow from candles and firelight. The table (made by the owners) are high if you like sitting up to your food: low if you prefer to loll across the tie-dyed cushions also made by the owners … Taj Mahal, Doctor Pepper and Crosby, Stills and Nash provided lush sounds in the background … it makes a wholesome change from the stagnancy of Dublin eating.
John S Doyle writing in the Irish Independent in 2005 remembered Good Karma as a:
A ‘head’ restaurant not everyone knew about, with bare brick walls and no seats, only bean bags, and mellow ‘sounds’. Nice food, none of your macrobiotic stuff. The ‘staff’ were laidback types who said “all right man”, and you were to take it as a privilege to be served by them. This was 1974 (sic) or so. There were numerous Garda raids, and the restaurant didn’t last long.
…Dublin’s first macrobiotic restaurant back in the early seventies and it was filled with, run by and staffed with hippies …What made it a nice place, perhaps more than the food, was the amateur attitude of everyone involved. You never felt that it was a commercial enterprise. Sure, money changed hands, but somehow you felt you were part of a social and gastronomic experiment.
It’s pretty amazing that there are so many positive memories of a place that was open for little more than twelve months.
While the restaurant closed, the health food shop, Green Acres, in the basement remained open. Patrick Comerford in The Irish Times (39 July 1975) interviewed the owner, Philip Guiney. He told Comeford that ‘not all the staff, and only a quarter of (his) customers’ were vegetarian. Open for three years, an increasing number of older people were visiting the ship realising that it was ‘not just a place for young freaks’. These older people came to ‘supplement their diets with natural foods, and probably a small number had become vegetarian out of economic necessary‘.
The journalist also mentioned the Ormond Health Centre (run by a Mr. Evans) on Parliament Street which sold dandelion coffee, Honeyrose cigarettes and herbal tea and the Irish Health and Herbal Centre on Trinity Street (run by Ann Flood and Michael McDonald) which was ‘not vegetarian orientated by any means’ but sold a lot of products popular with the vegetarian community.
In the late 1970s, there were a number of whole-food restaurants in Dublin including Munchies at 60 Bolton Street, The Golden Dawn on Crow Street and the Supernatural Tearooms at 53 Harcourt Street.
Here is a short piece on Munchies from 1977:
The Golden Dawn, established in 1976, was described by Christy Stapleton of the Vegetarian Society of Ireland in the late 1990s as ‘the closest thing to a vegetarian restaurant in Dublin’ at the time. Ran by showband singer Joe Fitzmaurice and his wife, it used to be a favourite of actors Gabriel Byrne, Vinny McCabe and Garrett Keogh while DJ Paul Webb worked there as an assistant cook and Golden Horde frontman Simon Carmody as dishwasher. Here is a link to a great 1978 RTE piece on the restaurant.