On 8 June 1973, five men were brought before District Justice Breathnach in Dublin District Court 6. They were all members of the Hare Krishna grouping. A Garda detective rose before the courts, and stated that:
They were walking down Grafton Street playing music and making a lot of noise. I had cautioned them on previous occasions not to play music to the annoyance of the inhabitants of the street….They were using cymbals and drums and bells. They were walking in single file but people had to walk in the roadway to avoid them.
Charged with obstructing traffic while playing instruments, the Judge asked if any of the five before him spoke English, only to hear that three came from Ireland. Angered by the presence of a cylindrical drum suspended from the neck of one the men, the Judge informed them that “I can warn you that you are lucky not to have been assaulted by a crowd. Any decent Irishman would object to this carry-on.” Going one further, he complained that “I’ve no jurisdiction to order a forfeiture of those things, bells and leaflets. If I had, I’d be fairly radical and confiscate those nonsensical things.” The five were fined seven pounds each and sent on their way, but outside there was more to come when The Irish Times reported a Garda as asking the five why they prayed the way they did. “You should pray in the church”, he told them, “and even then the priests don’t pray all day.”
A bad day for tolerance in Ireland then, a country clearly still adapting to the new presence on its streets, in the form of practising Hare Krishnas. Their first appearances in the Irish media seem to have been in 1971, though then it was their London equivalent who were being discussed, with the Inside London column of The Irish Times noting that “not that it could ever happen in Dublin: we already have our Jesus freaks.”
Essentially, The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a faith group dating back to 1966. Its followers ” dedicate their thoughts and actions towards pleasing the Supreme Lord, Krishna”, and today it runs an impressive international network that includes over 50 schools and 90 restaurants, several of which are here in Dublin.
1973 saw the group the focus of huge media attention in Ireland. Not alone had the recent arrivals attracted the scorn of Gardaí and Judges, but there was huge general interest in their acquiring a premises, in the form of a bungalow overlooking Dublin Bay at Sutton. Following on from the remarks made by District Justice Breathnach, journalists flocked to the Hare Krishnas to hear their story, with Des Hickey from the Irish Independent writing that six men were living in the bungalow, or “temple” as they described it, able to live on £20 a week between them. He wrote that “After the chanting and praying and dancing, Narrahari brought me into a small room to show me rows of bottles of perfume he had made. They sell them in a Dublin market at weekends, with colourfully produced Krishna books.” Far from District Court 6, it seemed the people of Sutton were largely not bothered by their neighbours.
An Irish Press journalist visiting the home was introduced to Brendan, a young man from Drimnagh, who had become involved with the group though was not yet fully initiated. He may well have best captured the appeal of the group to young Dubliners at the time, noting that “I’ve been into a lot of things since I left school, you know? Things like Yoga, the Divine Light Mission, the hippies. I suppose I’ve been into a lot of isms”.
Rather unsurprisingly, the incredibly reactionary comments of the District Judge led to quite a lot of rather sympathetic coverage for the group, with a sort of eagerness to understand them in the media. The Irish Times followed several members from Dublin to Galway, on a “brief tour to towns and villages along the coat, preaching their antidote to the ills of modern life.” The group managed to get lost in the housing estates of Raheny first however, “looking for a laundry to collect some clean robes.”
Previously on the blog Sam has looked at the history of vegetarianism in Dublin. In a 1975 Irish Times article entitled ‘The Whole Vegetarian Thing’, Patrick Comerford quoted the owner of the Ormond Health Centre as saying the growth of organisations like the Hare Krishnas and the Divine Light Mission was contributing to a rise in demand for vegetarian produce in the city. Still, the group remained minuscule in Dublin with regards to numbers, and gradually media interest waned until the later half of the 1970s. Indeed, in 1975 the religious correspondent of the same newspaper asked “whatever happened to Hare Krishna?”
In 1978 a new premises was acquired at Belvedere Place, leading to a new media interest in the faith once more. This impressive premises, opened in what was a fine renovated Georgian House, gave some indication of the growth of the faith globally, and 50 to 60 people partook in the opening ceremony, with some travelling to Dublin for the occasion. No doubt in reference to the remarks made in 1973, The Irish Times asked “whether Dublin wants the knowledge which they claim they and their scriptures offer remains to be seen, but hopefully it has grown more tolerant since they were here before.” A follow-up article a year later would see the group claim that Ballymena in Antrim was “where they are received best” outside of Dublin, and the group claiming 30 full-time Irish devotees. The group welcomed the visit of the Pope in 1979, noting that “the essence of all religions is to develop love of God”.