The Purty Kitchen received its first licence in 1728. In that age and in subsequent years the ’Old Dunleary Inn’ was perhaps better known for the sale of its coffee and tea products than for its alcoholic beverages. Sited on the estates of Lord Longford, the ancient maritime village of Dunleary regained prominence in 1709 when the Lord Lieutenant, Earl of Wharton, set sail for England from Dunleary port, setting a precedent which would continue for many centuries
Over the next twenty years the old village took on an aura of twofold importance: firstly, as a favoured port of embarkation to Britain and secondly as a venue of evening pleasure for fun-loving members of Dublin society. This was particularly in vogue during the summer months when the Blackrock – Dunleary Road would be littered with carts and coaches carrying people to and from to enjoy the splendid sea vista of Dunleary. To accommodate such travel a number of coffee houses grew up along the sea route, and in 1728 a gentleman named James Conyngham Operated the Old Dunleary Inn on the site of the modern, day ’Purty Kitchen’.
But while the other coffee houses were of a seasonal and makeshift nature, the Old Dunleary lnn also served as the source of overnight lodgings for passengers embarking by sea on the morning tides. The sight of the Old Dunleary Inn in this age was often a source of joy to the weary travellers who would have endured many hardships en route, not least being the ’stony Rock Road’ and the frequent attacks of highwaymen who often obtained juicy pickings from the afﬂuent travellers.
The scourge of highwaymen continued to be a problem throughout the 18th century as the Old Dunleary Inn grew in importance as a result of various port improvements throughout the century. The Conyngham family were still in occupation in 1803 when Captain William Bligh – later to gain worldwide notoriety as Captain of HMS. Bounty – sojourned here while surveying the port for the British Admiralty. Within a year, however, a major maritime tragedy involving the H.M.S. Prince of Wales and the Rochdale convinced the authorities that a new chief port was essential to serve the second city of the British Empire. The initial harbour, which was designed by the most outstanding contemporary British Engineer, John Rennie, was completed in 1821, when on the 3rd of September George IV officially opened the new port.
The town of Dunleary would be henceforth known as Kingstown as a result of the Royal visit which also had an association with the Old Dunleary Inn. During the course of his visit the Monarch dined at the Inn and the cup from which he drank has been preserved to this day. Local folklore tradition informs us that part of the reason for the Royal visit was because of a look-a-like of the King who drank in the Inn. When questioned by His Majesty to ascertain if there was any family relationship, or if his mother had ever been to London, the gentleman replied, “No, Your Majesty, not my mother but my father was”. The Inn was now in the occupation of the Haugh family who remained here until the 1850’s.
The importance ‘ of the Old Dunleary Inn declined over the following decades as a number of hotels were constructed in Kingstown. The nearest of these the Salthill which was built following the arrival of the Kingstown Railway in December 1834 Kingstown was decreed a in the same year, and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Service was now eight years in service, having been acquired from Howth in1826.
The population of the township had grown to 7,229 by 1851, two years after the post-famine visit of Queen Victoria. Old Vic was back again in 1861 but by now the Old Dunleary Inn no longer traded as an inn but as a coffee house and a conventional drinking tavern.
Christopher Byrne arrived here at No. 3 in 1883 and his sister Margaret operated her grocery and coffee house from No. 4, which was known as the ’Purty Kitchen’ — the name by which the entire premises would be known in future years.
Christopher Byrne passed away in the early days of the 20th century and his aging sister Margaret was forced to pull the pints in addition to running the family grocery. William Parry was providing more than a little competition from the Salthill Hotel and William Wallace was running a thriving Coal Merchants business close by.
Ironically, a member of Wallace’s coal staff in subsequent years was also a man named Christopher Byrne whose son Pat Byrne would be a future-owner of the Purty Kitchen.
When P.J.Morrissey arrived here in 1915, memories of the ’Old Dunleary Inn’ were but a distant shadow. Within seven years the township of Kingstown Would also be a memory, as the emerging Irish Free State would change the name to Dun Laoghaire.
By 1940 we find Messrs. Clancy and Houlihan trading from the Purty Kitchen and the Salthill Hotel was now in the ownership of the Royal Hibernian Hotel.
Today, the name of Byrne has returned to the Purty Kitchen, this time through local businessman, Pat Byrne who grew up and enjoyed his childhood in the local area. During the McAllister era of the ’60s and early ’70s, the young Pat Byrne became acquainted with the premises when he was a member of a ballad group who played here three nights a week. Pat Byrne has today retained the traditional old world character of the premises which is invariably a crowded, chatty port of call, full of ambience and good natural character.
The Purty Loft is very probably Dublin’s leading music venue, attracting the best of native and international artists. In recent years the ’Loft’ has gained national prominence because of its continuous high profile on T.V. and the print media. And I understand that the downstairs lounge is soon to undergo a comprehensive renovation in the traditional idiom which will recall memories of the historic past.
Once the host to Royalty, Sea Admirals, noblemen, merchants and seafarers, the Purty Kitchen, the, Borough’s oldest surviving premises, is today continuing a rich ‘ tradition in the social history of the Dublin licensed trade.