by Tom Kenny
In October 1935, the local papers reported that Mr. Thomas Lydon was about to open a super restaurant, installed with the latest conveniences, over his well-known confectionery shop on Shop Street. “A masterpiece of Modernity. Its equipment is the most up-to-date procurable including a Major ‘Esse’ Cooker, Electric Magrini Toaster, Scott Electric Hot Plate, Cold Storage room and a Frigidaire Ice Cream cabinet. The entrance to the restaurant is through the handsome shop premises which have also been modernized and where the aromas of freshly made bread buns and cakes was mouth-watering. The work of the restaurant, which could seat 200 people, is carried on by a well-trained staff of about thirty”.
The phone number was Galway 143.
For the older generation of readers, this establishment will trigger a lot of memories … Tommy Lydon’s own special table where he held court … scrambled eggs on toast after the pictures in the Savoy … Peggy Glennon … the immaculate green and white uniforms worn by the waitresses … Chrissie and Elizabeth Murphy … the fact that you knew everyone there …students … Chef Leyden … the tempting two-layer presentation of sweetcakes that were like an occasion of sin …Sarah Canavan … the paintings on the wall … Mrs. Kathleen Lydon at the kiosk … mixed grills … Jimmy Lydon rescuing and exhibiting old Galway carved stones … the aroma of coffee as you went up the stairs … queues on the stairs during Race Week (they has special menus that week) … the heart of Galway.
A visit to the restaurant was the ultimate experience in pleasure for many young Galwegians. These were special occasions, perhaps celebrating your First Communion or Confirmation. Two boarders in the Mercy Convent School were taken there by one of the Sisters as a treat while recovering from an illness and the excitement of the visit to Lydons is all they remember.
In the early days, the staff slept over the shop where Mrs. Lydon kept a strict eye on them. Lydons were very good employers and always kept in touch with their staff, indeed some families had a few generations who worked there. In April, 1973, there was a strike on the company by members of the I.T.G.W.U., seven of them placed pickets on the Shop Street and Middle Street premises. It turned out that the other one hundred and fifty members of staff had formed their own staff association and they did not understand why a small minority of employees would endanger their livelihood by striking, so they all reported for work. When Jimmy and Doreen Lydon took over the business they built it up into a national company and they gave it the brand name of Lydonhouse. One of Galway’s great characters of the day ‘Mate’ Lydon adopted the name and always gave his address as Lydonhouse, 2, Claddagh Avenue, Galway.
Jimmy Lydon used to trawl around sites that were about to be demolished and buy up any old Galway limestone plaques he could. He had many of these inset into the wall on the stairs up to the restaurant. He preserved them all and eventually, very honourably and generously presented them all to the City Museum.
When he retired, he sold the business to John Sherry knowing that many of the staff would be retained. That situation continued for several years until it was time for change due to the natural evolution of any busy commercial street.
Our first photograph is of the restaurant as it was in the 1930s, the second is of the new façade on the building taken c.1980.