John Farrell was a darling of Ireland’s restaurant scene, opening a string of prominent eateries across the city. Most still trade successfully today. The jewel in his crown however was Luna. Dazzling both critics and diners, it won restaurant of the year in its very first year. At its peak, it was generating revenues of €40,000 a week. Now it is bust, and a liquidator is examining the cause of its demise. So just what happened Luna? How did a star of the restaurant scene fall from the sky?


Businessman Brian O’Farrell first met John Farrell in 1999 in Il Primo, a fashionable Italian restaurant a short stroll from St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

At the time, O’Farrell was modestly successful, but relatively low profile. Based in Malahide in north county Dublin, he had a thriving auctioneering business called O’Farrell Cleere, along with a sideline assembling sites and property development. His first real foray came in 1982 when he bought Malahide Boat Yard. Strategically he acquired adjoining lands before he flipped the entire land bank to Gannon Homes. This deal quietly put O’Farrell on the map in Dublin business circles, even if he rarely featured in the press.  

Il Primo on Montague Street in Dublin 2 was a fine Italian restaurant, particularly in a Dublin restaurant environ that was less developed than today. Along with The Unicorn, Il Primo was one of the places to go on a Friday after work in Dublin. It had good food and wine. The tables were close. There was an upstairs which was very discreet. War stories could be, and often were, exchanged. Deals could be struck, and celebrated. With his wealth growing, Brian O’Farrell was at ease in Il Primo.

John Farrell, meanwhile, had just returned home from South Africa in 1999. Farrell’s mother, an English woman, met his father, an Irish tradesman, in Botswana in the 1970s. When John Farrell was three, his father died in a car accident in Africa.

In a 2015 interview, Farrell recalled the event: “My first memory as a kid is these policemen walking down this long, dusty, dirt road. My gran was there and she was holding my hand and my sister’s hand, and my mum walked up to the gate where these policemen were, and I remember her collapsing on the ground and crying.”

“I don’t remember much else about it because I was only three, but I remember that image.”

Farrell’s mother was only 21 at the time. She moved back to Ireland to be near her late husband’s family. In the late 1970s she moved to Ballymun in North Dublin. Farrell recalls growing up in a seven-storey tower fondly, before drugs took hold in the 1980s. “If you walked up the stairs of the flats, on every landing you’d see needles and stuff. I remember that clearly. It was all out in the open,” Farrell said. Farrell’s mother decided to move back to her family in Africa who lived in Zimbabwe and South Africa.  At the age of 19 John Farrell came back to Ireland. His first real job was at Il Primo where he did everything from prep vegetables to serve customers.

Farrell and O’Farrell were different from each other. But their worlds collided in a fashionable restaurant a short stroll from St Stephen’s Green.

On the up in Dublin

As a result of a life spent travelling, John Farrell’s accent is memorable, a combination of Dublin fused with Africa. This, combined with his charm and ready smile, easily won over customers. As a regular diner O’Farrell became friendly with Farrell but not close. Over the years, Farrell saved his money. By 2005 he could afford to become part-owner of Il Primo. 

Brian O’Farrell was also moving up in the world. In 2004, he acquired 50 per cent of the Northside Shopping Centre for €40 million. Four years later, he had full control of the centre, hatching plans  to redevelop it as a northside rival to Dundrum at a cost of €1 billion. O’Farrell had a house in the K Club and substantial retail interests in Poland. Much of his funding came from Anglo Irish Bank.

In the summer of 2008, as Anglo’s share price was suffering, it asked O’Farrell to help it out. The border tycoon Sean Quinn had taken a reckless gamble on the bank’s shares that he could no longer afford to keep up with. O’Farrell, along with nine other developers, was asked to buy some of Quinn’s shares in an effort to stabilise the bank. Combined, they became known as the Maple 10.

When news of the Maple 10 story broke in 2009 opposition leader Fine Gael TD Enda Kenny described the ten in the Dáil as a “toxic circle.” Labour leader Eamon Gilmore called for the “golden circle” of ten developers to be “outed” in the Dail. “What has been going on ranges from what might be mildly described as impropriety to illegality and criminality,” Gilmore said, using the protection of parliamentary privilege.

O’Farrell and the other nine developers would have to wait until 2014 to have their names cleared. Concluding a criminal trial into Anglo Irish Bank Judge Martin Nolan said of the developers: “They were certainly good men and acting with good motives.”

After decades in the background, the publicity of the Maple 10 propelled O’Farrell into the spotlight.

The cash

As Ireland’s economy crashed, Brian O’Farrell was Nama-ed, his loans sold off to the National Asset Management Agency. It was a fate that greeted practically every other developer in the country. O’Farrell kept his head down, worked hard and cooperated with the self-styled bad bank. By May 2014, he managed to exit the agency, when his company loans of €225 million were auctioned to a fund called Patron Capital for about €50 million. O’Farrell did what he had to do in order to ensure this sale went smoothly.

John Farrell, meanwhile, had taken advantage of the downturn. With rents in freefall and prime properties vacant, he started amassing an exciting portfolio of restaurants and eateries. In 2009, he opened Dillinger’s, an American style diner, in the monied suburb of Ranelagh, located in a building that once housed Dylan McGrath’s Michelin starred restaurant Mint. Farrell launched the business with his savings and a credit card with a limit of €35,000.

Leo Molloy, a friend and employee of Farrell, recalled in 2016 interview how Dillinger’s came together. “I remember Dillinger’s when it was stacked up in the corners of John’s apartment. It was just a mood board. He didn’t have a menu, a chef or a building, but he had this concept and this design.”

The Dublin Inquirer called Farrell a “designer at heart, restaurateur by trade”. Farrell had a meticulous attention to detail both when it came to interior and menu design. When it opened, Dillinger’s made quite a splash, and was immediately a darling of the close-knit set of reviewers and food writers. “It got a lot of free press because it was a casual, cafe-vibe diner that opened in the space of a Michelin star restaurant,” Farrell recalled in a 2017 interview. Dillinger’s is owned by a company called Dillinger’s Restaurant Ltd which is owned jointly by Farrell and Frank and Mari Frisby. Frank and Mari Frisby own a specialist industrial property firm called F.J Frisby & Associates. It continues to trade successfully today.

Each new restaurant that Farrell opened was lauded in the media. The public liked them too. His restaurants were making money.

With Dillinger’s bedding in, Farrell opened a second restaurant in Ranelagh, a steakhouse called The Butcher’s Grill. Farrell was inspired by Capetown’s second oldest steakhouse called the Wooden Shoe when opening the restaurant in 2010. “I liked the challenge of doing something in such a small space,” Farrell recalled. The Butcher’s Grill is owned by FJ Restaurants Ltd , another joint venture with the Frisbys. Again, it continues to trade well.

In 2012 Farrell moved into the city centre, opening a Mexican food and cocktail bar called 777. Farrell painted the exterior of this restaurant black and frosted its windows. This new restaurant was owned by a company called JFR Ltd, which is owned by Farrell and the Frisbys.

Each new restaurant that Farrell opened was lauded in the media. The public liked them too. His restaurants were making money. In interviews to promote his business, Farrell came across as restless. He said he was always looking for new venues but that raising finance could be hard as traditional bank’s were not lending.

Cash, not ambition, was the only thing restraining him.

A chance encounter

Luna, a darling of the restaurant scene, that collapsed leaving creditors impacted.

In 2014, Brian O’Farrell bumped into John Farrell by chance in Dublin. They chatted about the restaurant trade and Farrell confided in the developer that he was looking at an opportunity to open a restaurant on Drury Street in the heart of the city.

O’Farrell listened but told Farrell he couldn’t help him because he had his own issues to deal with. He was hamstrung dealing with his debts and didn’t have spare cash to invest in something new.

Dublin City Council had a space there that was at both street level and underground, located  on the corner of a large multi-storey car-park. It was a tricky floorplan that hadn’t worked for a male clothes shop. Farrell, however, could see the location’s potential.

It was between South William Street and South George’s Street, and both were buzzing with new bars. Farrell had an idea that would maximise the potential of the site by opening a high-end chip shop, seafood restaurant and nightclub style dining room.

O’Farrell listened but told Farrell he couldn’t help him because he had his own issues to deal with. He was hamstrung dealing with his debts and didn’t have spare cash to invest in something new. However, O’Farrell’s wife, Stella-Maria Murphy, was less constrained.

Murphy was a businesswoman in her own right with a background in fashion retail, having run Jasper Conran’s business in Dublin. She had her own modest portfolio of investments which were insulated from her husband’s debts. She was never a director of any O’Farrell’s companies and Nama accepted that she was independent.

Farrell and Murphy decided to go into business as co-directors of Super Miss Sue Ltd. The upstairs part of the business opened first. Called Super Miss Sue, this combined a seafood restaurant with an adjoining up-market late night fish and chip shop. Below this building Farrell began working on what would become Luna.

Luna was a labour of love for Farrell. Named after his daughter, Farrell put everything into creating a unique dining experience. He teamed up with Karl Whelan, a talented chef, and hired the best kitchen and waiting staff he could find.

Whelan had worked with Cooke’s restaurant, then Chapter One before going to Fade Street Social. He had even cooked for Queen Elizabeth during her historic visit to Dublin Castle in 2011. Front of house was Declan Maxwell, who for 16 years had led the team in Michelin star restaurant Chapter One on Dublin’s Parnell Square North.

The combination of classic design, great food and service marked Luna out quickly when it opened in June 2015. Bono dined there. So did the businessman Denis O’Brien. But it also remained accessible to relatively ordinary diners. 

In its first 12 months Luna was named restaurant of the year by the Restaurants Association of Ireland. Irish Times restaurant critic Catherine Cleary described Luna as “shameless, from its gold leaf and caviar down to a menu postscript telling you the staff were ‘tailored by Louis Copeland’… The food is good. For this kind of cash you could eat better elsewhere but I’m not sure you can have as much fun.”

Things were going really well. Luna, and its adjoining sister restaurants, had revenues of up to €40,000 a week. The future looked bright for Luna.

Keeping out of trouble

As his culinary empire grew,  John Farrell became more focused on developing new restaurant concepts than day-to-day operations. Farrell said he was working on a new chain of fried chicken shops called Blackbird but this failed to materialise because he said: “There’s just a few hiccups with intellectual property rights.”

In the same interview Farrell said he was working on a casual diner in Stoneybatter with chef Keelan Higgs who had previously worked with him in Luna.

“They would let you pay a deposit and over 90 days you would pay the balance. So if something cost €300,000, you might only need half.”

Higgs instead opened Variety Jones on Thomas Street in Dublin 8. Farrell also said he was looking at a restaurant on Capel Street which would serve food from multiple Asian countries. This has not opened yet.

Farrell again complained about the difficulties of raising funding. “What’s happened over the years is that because the banks weren’t lending any money, the tradespeople became the bankers,” he said.

“They would let you pay a deposit and over 90 days you would pay the balance. So if something cost €300,000, you might only need half.”

One of the reasons it was hard for Farrell – and other smaller restaurant owners – to expand was increased competition. Paddy McKillen Jr and Matt Ryan’s Press Up group was rapidly expanding, opening 47 venues including restaurants, gastropubs, boutique hotels and cinemas in Dublin.

The speed at which Press Up was expanding was extraordinary. In the industry, rivals questioned whether this growth was sustainable, but Press Up insisted it was. In August 2019, Press Up looked to raise up to €50 million by selling 45 per cent of the business to investors. Stockbroker Goodbody was advising. Being creative was no longer enough when faced with Press Up’s financial firepower.

Farrell, according to some former staff, was less involved in Luna. Why he was less involved is the subject of some speculation among staff. Farrell, in media interviews, admitted that his partner, a sculptor, had moved back to the United States with his daughter Luna after their relationship ended. He was flying back and forth to visit his daughter. Farrell, who for years was almost every night working in one of his restaurants, began to be seen about town more. Farrell himself in 2017 said he was less involved in the business: “The restaurants run themselves because there are managers. So it gets a bit boring after a while if I’m not doing anything. I need to keep myself out of trouble.”

Cash crunch and a white knight

Businessman John Farrell.

The building that housed Luna is owned by Dublin City Council. Under the terms of its lease agreement, there was a rent review at year five of its ten-year lease to 2023. Luna’s annual rent paid to the council was €40,000 but this was certain to rise. As it headed towards Christmas 2018, Luna’s rent renewal date was rapidly approaching.

A decision was taken to sell its upstairs fish restaurant. The sale of the lease of the ground floor of the restaurant was completed to another business, a taqueria called Masa, in order to raise new capital to keep Luna going. 

Masa is run by Shane Gleeson whose brother Finn and cousin Tom Gleeson are the owners of Bunsen Burger. Masa is owned by a company called Miss Jibby Ltd and it specialises in quality tacos served with craft beer.

Some issues that had been outstanding since Luna opened were still not dealt with.

About €25,000 was needed to make the downstairs restaurant wheelchair accessible. Luna had no smoking area, meaning some diners chose to leave after their meal to go to a nearby pub rather than stay on. Competition was heating up. Takings were now falling and debts to suppliers rising. Monies owed to the Revenue Commissioners also began to creep up.

To get over Christmas 2018, the business required more cash to stay open which Stella-Maria Murphy came up with.

In early May there was another meeting. This time O’Farrell insisted on going with Farrell to help him with negotiations.

A cafe kiosk – yards from Luna – which was also surrounded by Drury Street car park came up. Farrell took over the lease of this cafe using a different company.

After Christmas there was a meeting with Dublin City Council to discuss renewing Luna’s lease. The meeting was  inconclusive.

In early May there was another meeting. This time O’Farrell insisted on going with Farrell to help him with negotiations.

At this meeting , the council said it wanted to more than double Luna’s rent to €90,000. Shortly after, the Revenue Commissioners took an attachment order against one of Luna’s bank accounts to ensure it got paid.

A board meeting of Super Miss Sue Ltd was called urgently. The fear now for the company was that if it continued to trade in such dire circumstances, its directors could be found to have traded recklessly.

A decision was taken to pull the plug and liquidate the business.

However, there was a potential white night in the background who might take over the business if Luna could hold onto its lease with Dublin City Council, which still had between five and four years left to run.

It was a tense affair. John Farrell did not turn up, annoying some creditors. Just one employee was there;  many others were also owed money.

Declan O’Regan, an experienced publican, had expressed interest in taking over Luna.  O’Regan’s company, Telfer, operated Hogan’s bar on Dublin’s south Great George’s Street as well as an adjoining restaurant called L’Gueuleton and a boutique hotel called Kelly’s. Telfer had accumulated profits of more than €8 million.

O’Regan, who is the brother of the late entrepreneur and publican Hugh O’Regan, offered a safe harbour.

The plan was that Luna would agree its lease with the council and would then sell this lease and the company’s other assets to O’Regan. This money would be used to pay off Revenue, staff and suppliers in full.

Murphy would lose the €500,000 she had invested but at least that would be all.

The company lined up Patric Black as liquidator and called a meeting of the firm’s creditors.

Never paid a penny

On June 7, 2017, at 9.30 in the morning, about a dozen creditors of Super Miss Sue Ltd met in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Santry on Dublin’s northside.

It was a tense affair. John Farrell did not turn up, annoying some creditors. Just one employee was there;  many others were also owed money.

Bruton asked had the directors of Super Miss Sue ever taken a salary. Murphy said she had never taken a penny from the company. She apologised to creditors and staff for the state of affairs the company found itself in.

Rory Bruton for the Revenue Commissioners stood up early on to ask Murphy had she any other interests in the restaurant business. She said she did not.

The question then arose about the sale of the lease of the ground floor to Masa and what this money was used for. Murphy said this money was used to keep Super Miss Sue Ltd going.

Shane Gleeson then stood up and asked to be added to the list of creditors as he said when he took over the lease for Masa there was a gas bill unpaid.

Gary O’Rourke of Tax Assist Accountants said he was the company’s external accountant and could answer any financial accounts. He said the company could not raise money from a bank because of its short lease terms and that Dublin City Council would not renew Luna’s lease as it was owed money.

Bruton asked had the directors of Super Miss Sue ever taken a salary. Murphy said she had never taken a penny from the company. She apologised to creditors and staff for the state of affairs the company found itself in.

A solicitor from Clark Hill called Sam Saarsteiner then stood up. Saarsteiner was there along with accountant John Healy of Kirby Healy Chartered Accountants.

Saarsteiner asked about Farrell’s other restaurant businesses. Murphy said that she knew nothing of Farrell’s other business interests.

Healy questioned the write-down of assets on the company’s balance sheet and asked was there any connection to this and Farrell opening a new restaurant.

O’Rourke, of Tax Assist Accountants, said there was a detailed asset register and that there was not.

Healy asked about cash takings in Luna’s final week and the absence of any stock on its statement of affairs. O’Rourke said most takings were paid by credit card and that cash had been used to pay suppliers. He said there was no stock because fresh stock went off and that wine had been returned to suppliers.

Saarsteiner asked why Farrell had not shown up, given he had signed company documents in relation to the proposed liquidation the night before.

A vote was taken with Murphy proposing Black as liquidator. Saarsteiner proposed Healy instead. Healy was supported by Revenue and some small creditors.

A row took place over Murphy’s right to vote. Healy questioned whether she was an investor or a creditor. A decision was taken to delay the vote until Super Miss Sue Ltd could take legal advice.

Questions are asked

At the next creditors meeting Super Miss Sue Ltd had Brian O’Neill from Gore and Grimes Solicitors present to represent it. This time three former Luna employees including Karen Noble also turned up. All three complained about the situation they found themselves in and asked why Farrell had not shown up at either creditors’ meeting.

Murphy again apologised to staff and thanked them for their hard work. She said she could not speak for Farrell.

Rory Bruton from the Revenue Commissioners asked was Farrell aware of the creditors’ meetings, and was told he was.

Bruton asked about the source of a loan Murphy made to the company, and was told it was from borrowed funds. John Healy questioned the treatment of Murphy’s loan in the company’s last set of accounts.

Brian O’Neill said that the accounts for all years prior to 2017 showed the sum in question as a loan. He said that due to an error in preparing the 2017 accounts, it was classified as capital. This mistake he said was rectified in 2018 accounts which were filed with the Companies Registration Office.

Healy said he believed that creditors should be concerned about this accountancy issue.

Saarsteiner asked was Murphy involved in any other business with Farrell, and was told she was not. Saarsteiner said he was aware that Farrell was opening a new restaurant in the same building as Luna. O’Rourke said that he was Farrell’s accountant, and that this new premises was completely separate, and nothing to do with Luna.

On its statement of affairs there is a deficit of over €1 million for Super Miss Sue Ltd. After so many gongs and good media write-ups Luna’s final review may not be good.

Saarsteiner questioned why there was not a signed loan agreement from Murphy for her loan to the company. The solicitor was told that Murphy’s personal accountant held this agreement, but that he had recently died, and that the agreement was being searched for.

Saarsteiner then objected to the appointment of Patric Black as liquidator. Healy was again put forward as an alternative, with Revenue supporting him. A vote was taken which came down in favour of Black. Saarsteiner again objected, but it looked like Black was in. The company was told however that it wasn’t over.


On July 22 Karen Noble applied to the High Court, as a staff creditor of Super Miss Sue Ltd, to have Black removed as liquidator. She asked for Healy to be put in instead.

A meeting took place between Black, Murphy and the company’s legal advisors. The cost of fighting Healy’s appointment in the High Court was estimated at €20,000. Murphy felt she had nothing to hide as a director so she decided not to fight Healy’s appointment.

Healy was now liquidator. His task will be to determine what best can be done for the company’s creditors as well as examine the actions of the company and its directors in the run up to its failure. Declan O’Regan remains interested in taking over the site of Luna as do others. O’Regan has the experience and the balance sheet to do it. Any deal will require Dublin City Council’s approval as landlord.

John Farrell declined to comment for this article. He is close to opening his latest venture called Amy Austin just yards from Luna. “Buzz is building about this new wine bar from John Farrell,” The Irish Times drooled. Undoubtedly, like everything Farrell has done, Amy Austin will be good. The bottom line however for Luna however is not great.

On its statement of affairs there is a deficit of over €1 million for Super Miss Sue Ltd. The Revenue, staff, suppliers and Dublin City Council are all owed money. After so many gongs and good media write-ups, Luna’s final review may not be good.