Ballymaloe House and Cookery School

 

I’ve become more interested in eating well and protecting the environment over the last two years. So when I found myself in Ballymaloe House last week I was given the perfect opportunity to see a property that has harnessed the best in food for nearly 75 years. Myrtle and Ivan Allen bought the House at Ballymaloe in 1948 and a legacy was born out of Myrtle’s wonderful cooking with recipes that can still be tasted today. The House is carefully decorated to maintain the authenticity of a Country House with all modern comforts and amenities and then there is the cake. We arrived early afternoon when tea and lemon drizzle cake topped with pistachios were being served in the drawing room.

Afterwards my daughter Nicole and I were brought to the Mallard Room at the top of the house with views over the undulating hills and fine prints of ducks on the wall. All of the 34 rooms have names instead of numbers and each is decorated individually.

The 300 acres of farmland extend as far as the eye can see and we were given a chance to explore on the Diversity Tour given by Tobias who oversees the grounds on the estate. The passion and commitment Tobias has for his job is evident the minute we walk out to the drive. A large field is left to grow hay and provide a safe habitat for the local insects and small mammals. He guides us through the lush greenery where trees have fallen and become homes for a new generation of saplings. The wetland was designed by Ivan Allen and is another source of haven for local wildlife.

I forgot to mention the swimming pool which was built in the 1970s and becomes home to frog spawn in the spring before humans take over in the summer months. We could have chatted to Tobias all day but we had to get ready for dinner. I’ve had enough precious moments on special weekends with my mother over the years to fully appreciate the importance of making time to do the same with my daughter. This dining experience was one that we both will remember for some time to come.

I started with a sorbet while Nicole had the soup before the beetroot risotto came out and simply blew us both away – we shared all of our plates because my duck and her fish were equally delicious. We didn’t have to choose between cheese or dessert because at Ballymaloe House the cheese board is another course. The waiter brought over a dessert trolley and allowed us to sample a little of everything. This is an old-fashioned delight seldom seen these days and why I love the country houses in Ireland’s Blue Book.

We brought our teas out to the sitting room where one of Robert Ballagh’s most fascinating paintings in the house collection hangs. According to Laura Behan, the general manager, it is the most Instagrammed image in the house.

 

We chatted about the legacy in art that remains a big part of Ballymaloe House and went out to see the outdoor collection of sculptures on display in the grounds until the end of August this summer. Fantastical rabbits and a map covered James Joyce effigy are some of the delights included with ceramic pots and zen statues.

The history of the estate goes back to the 15th century castle which is part of the House and currently in the process of being converted to a special space for romantic occasions including proposals. Indeed there are many spaces to hide and rest and just breathe in the relaxing atmosphere at Ballymaloe House.

Nicole and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the conservatory next day before setting off to check another wing of the family at Ballymaloe Cookery School only a few kilometres down the road. Myrtle Allen’s grandson Toby brought us around the organic farm which is now 25 years old and showed great foresight on the part of his mother Darina Allen when she started the famous cookery school. A range of courses from afternoon to two day and then the longer certification courses are on offer. It’s a lovely facility and activity to compliment a stay at the original family home.

We bumped into Darina Allen’s brother Rory O’Connell who was serving up lunch for the students in the colourful kitchen and were lucky to taste some more mouthwatering delights. We popped into the school shop and came home with some homemade Kombucha and delicious coconut macaroons. East Cork has a gem in this wonderful range of businesses that all began with the enterprise of Mytle and Ivan Allen. After speaking to the next generations their success looks set to continue for many more to come.

Factbox

The Ballymaloe House Disconnect to Reconnect Packages start at €425 per night for two people sharing including dinner bed and breakfast. www.ballymaloe.ie

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