In a country known for carnivorous delights such as beef stew, tripe, and drisheen, one might assume that vegetarian tourism in Ireland would be an after-thought at best. There could be nothing further from the truth. Not only is vegetarianism an option for tourists heading to Ireland, it is transforming into a reason to go there!
From the streets of her major cities, to the nooks and crannies of her small towns and lush country-side, vegetarian destinations in Ireland are on the rise. As the global economy has soured over the past decade, Ireland has turned a lot of her focus inwards. Store owners, food chains and government alike are all pushing "Buy local, buy Irish!" This in turn has brought a renewed movement towards fresh produce and healthy lifestyles. Both which only add to the ground swell of vegetarian options for tourists.
In Dublin, one of the most popular tourist stops, the Guinness Storehouse, has signed on in full force. While many visit to learn how to pour the perfect pint of stout, Guinness, along with Good Food Ireland, have made a strong push in recent years to ensure that all produce is sourced locally. Other than their trademark stout and a tour of their historic storehouse, vegetarians should be sure to drop in and try the Guinness dark brown Irish bread with vegetable soup at Brewers dining hall, one of five restaurants serving hungry guests.
Nearby, in the heart of Dublin on Wicklow Street near Grafton, well known for its shopping, Cornocopia is a casual vegetarian and wholefood restaurant. Diners line up at the counter to browse the daily offering of mains, salads, soups, and desserts. Comfort foods such as stews and curries are always main-stays, while Cornocopia strives not to simply fill their menu with lentil dishes. Look for delicious offerings such as spiced seitan sausage, with pepper, aubergne, and kidney bean ragout. The menu choices are all about using fresh, local ingredients & the concept stresses knowledge of everything you put into your body. Every dish is marked with dietary symbols such as allergens, or raw vs living produce. The place is generally busy and it can be hard to find a free table, but the staff are friendly and are happy to take time to explain the menu to new visitors. Served cafeteria style it means you can get in and out quickly and continue your day in Dublin. Prices for mains with 2 salads and rice is about 12 euros. The Cornocopia cookbook is available for 39 euro.
Another worthwhile stop while in town is Listons Food Store, packed with locally sourced Irish produce and artisan foods. While serving vegetarian and non-vegetarian, everything is made fresh onsite including wonderful salads, bulgar, pastas, and the like. Perfect if you are looking to pick something up to eat and take away for later on. A definite must-try: their grated potato pancakes with corsettes and ementhal.
Lastly, no tour of Dublin should be complete without a stop at Café Joly at the National Library of Ireland. This bright, modern cafe is an excellent spot to pull up and rest your weary feet. Owners Bronwyn Bailey and Michael O'Malley are always looking how best to show off local Irish foods. They make their own soups (a brilliant beetroot, ginger and chive soup on this day) and have an absolutely divine offering of cheeses and fresh scones. Definitely worth a visit for: The Gurney Sandwich—fresh baked rye bread with field goats cheese, cherry tomato, apricot and honey.
While Dublin certainly has much to offer the vegetarian tourist, one must venture further south to Cork City and County Cork to be truly dazzled. It seems nearly everyone in Ireland has heard of Cafe Paradiso, the vegetarian restaurant located along the river in the heart of Cork City—and rightfully so. Having won a slew of awards over the past decade including 2010 Best Chef in Cork, and just about every Bridgestone award since 2004, there is much to brag about. Offering a seasonal menu in a candle-lit fine dining setting, the place is always packed. You'll definitely want to call ahead to make a reservation. The menu is incredibly sophisticated, and you'll be tempted to order just about everything on the menu. The wonderful thing about Cafe Paradiso is that it makes no apologies for being vegetarian and can stand toe-to-toe with any non-vegetarian restaurant in the city. They also have a large selection of their vegetarian cookbooks for sale. A three-course dinner costs 40 euros. There are also a few quaint and comfortable apartments upstairs available for those looking for B&B accommodations. Rooms come with a custom prepared breakfast at the cafe which will not disappoint the hungriest of travellers.
Interestingly, Cafe Paradiso has an arrangement to source most of their produce from a nearby farm called Gort Na Nain (Field of the Birds). While they stock one of the finest vegetarian restaurants, farm owners Lucy Stewart and Ultan Walsh know a thing or two themselves about serving delicious food up to hungry visitors. A visit and stay at the Gort Na Nain vegetarian farm and guesthouse should absolutely not be passed up! While running a full-service farm, Lucy and Ultan also run a wonderful B&B. You feel great knowing meals are prepared with food entirely grown on site. While you may have trouble finding it, that is certainly part of the charm of this wonderful hidden gem in the southern Irish countryside. With three very charming and well-furnished guest rooms, the guesthouse is clean and homey and Lucy and Ulton will charm you with their homemade beer and hilarious conversation. The food is always fresh and delicious and is up to par with anything you'd find in a top class restaurant.
Also hidden away in the picturesque country-side of County Cork is Ballymaloe House which has been in operation since the 1960s as a country hotel with a focus on food and farms. In 1983, the family opened up Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery School just down the road. While the focus of the school is an intensive 12-week course that they offer multiple times a year, they also have half-day dynamic vegetarian cooking course offered three times a year. For six euros it is also worth a visit for a stroll through their impressive gardens—filled with fields and glasshouses full of herbs, vegetables, and flowers, including some rather foreign to Ireland, the lush and well-kept ten acres is quite a sight to be seen.
In a country that has refocused itself to highlight and promote its agricultural bounty, it is no surprise that there are many options for the vegetarian tourist in Ireland. The pleasant surprise is how these food destinations make no excuse for being vegetarian, and rather focus solely on serving delicious cuisine, taking pride in Ireland's traditional roots and also serving up cutting-edge cuisine.
For additional information visit Tourism Ireland.