(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.
A vegetarian restaurant called The Harvest was operating in 1979 on the top of Harcourt Street and then at 1 Lincoln Place by early 1983. I assume they were connected. An Irish Times journalist visited the the Harcourt Street Harvest restaurant and wrote in the paper on 14 December 1979 that she enjoyed her meal of:
Chickpea pea (50p) .. a tasty and sustaining … starter. For main course there’s a wide choice but the aduki bean hamburger with rice, salad and a choice of sauce (£1.80) is something to linger over
Bananas, a self-service vegetarian restaurant, was opened at 15 Upper Stephens St by Muriel Goodwin and friends in late 1982. Lorraine Kennedy reviewed it for The Irish Times on 15 October 1983. She said she was more than happy with her ‘starter of celery soup sprinkled with watercres .. for 85p … (and) a vegetable pizza (£1.20) accompanied by a mixed salad of orange, celery and more watercress’.
Also in 1982, Blazing Salads was established as a wholefood restaurant by the pioneering Fitzmaurice family after they decided to wind down The Golden Dawn. Based at the top floor of the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre until 2001, the family moved operations to a new deli-style premises on Drury Street where it is still open today.
The Well Fed Cafe was opened in 1983 at 6 Crow Street as part of the Dublin Resource Centre (DRC) and lasted until the at least mid 1990s. A Workers Co-Operative, it served delicious veggie food at a very cheap cost and won numerous award.
Around 1984, a veggie restaurant and wine bar called Rays opened in the premises of the former Golden Dawn in Crow Street.
Cornucopia Wholefood and Vegetarian Restaurant, the granddaddy of Dublin veggie restaurants, began trading on Wicklow Street in January 1986 and has been there ever since. It was established by Neil McCafferty (1952-1993) and Deirdre McCafferty, who is still the proprietor of the restaurant.
In the late 1980s, the Hare Krishnas opened a Veggie restaurant on Crow Street (where Tasty Zoes is now). It lasted for about a year. In 1998, they opened their first Govinda’s restaurant at 4 Aungier Street. That’s still open and they’ve a further two in the city, one on Middle Abbey Street and one on Merrion Row.
In 1987, a ‘demi-veg’ restaurant called It’s Natural opened up beside the Olympia Theatre on Dame Street. Also that year, a vegetarian restaurant called Second Nature opened its doors in Blackrock by sisters Fiona and Susan Bergin.
Cranks, a UK vegetarian restaurant franchise, opened on the first floor of Bewley’s on Westmoreland Street in 1989. I’m not sure how long it lasted.
Opened in early 1996, Juice on South Great George’s Street was Dublin’s only sit-down vegetarian restaurant for many years. Open until midnight, it was a popular place until its closure in 2011
I’ll leave it that. It would take too much work trying to trace the various veggie restaurants that have come and gone in the city since the mid 1990s.
It seems there have been three different incarnations of Vegetarian Societies in Dublin:
Dublin Vegetarian Society, 1880s – mid 1910s
Dublin Vegetarian Society, 1946 – early 1960s
Vegetarian Society of Ireland, 1978 – Present