During the summer I had the pleasure of spending some time with Rory Allen at Ballymaloe House Hotel.
I have to admit amongst all the posts and videos I have made to date, this is the most daunting. Ballymaloe is legendary and a world famous brand for hospitality and food in particular.
However as anyone who has read my book “A Taste of Cork” or watched my videos will realise it was the perfect subject for my blog and YouTube Channel. A Taste of Cork was a food and historical journey through Cork North, South, East and West. Similarly I could easily write a complete book on the history and food at Ballymaloe house. The video above is 18 minutes but that is only after leaving out at least another 30 minutes on the story of the Ballymaloe harp, the Battle of Kinsale stone, the archway stone, the unique heating system at Ballymaloe and on and on. There is so much history to tell, that a watchable length YouTube video is not enough. A book Ballymaloe: The History of a Place and Its People was recently written by the author and historian, Jane Hayter-Hames. The book is available here on Amazon for those interested. An excerpt from the books description is below.
Ballymaloe “was a Norman castle then, but old Sir John FitzEdmund was a man of national significance and he turned Ballymaloe into a Renaissance country house. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was fought over bitterly, both legally and by the sword. The Earl of Orrery, who had fought for King Charles I and Cromwell, was awarded the prize and despite owning other properties, he often stayed there. His wife was pregnant with their youngest daughter as the Orrerys lingered at Ballymaloe. But the Earl had a greater mansion and Ballymaloe was let. As Cork harbor became a major port, merchants built up fortunes and took country seats. What more charming spot than Ballymaloe? They enlarged and altered the house, laid out gardens but as their fortunes declined, they moved on. In the 19th century the house slid into genteel discomfort, still beautiful but shabby and cold. Two elderly ladies owned it until their nephew and his young family moved in. As Ireland became independent, three girls were growing up there that remembered Ballymaloe with warm affection and described it to the author. In 1947, Ivan and Myrtle Allen bought the property. They farmed it and brought up their children there. The old house was modernised and improved, but it was Myrtle Allen’s decision to open a restaurant which gave Ballymaloe a new and exciting role. Soon it became a guest house and visitors came, summer and winter, to bask in an atmosphere both lively and tranquil, to eat the finest Irish food and enjoy the garden where so much of it was grown. Once more Ballymaloe House was enlarged to accommodate more guests.
Standing on the eastern seaboard of Ireland, in an area rich in history, Ballymaloe had been part of a wider story. The Munster wars raged all around, the Spanish landed just down the coast and Cromwell lodged nearby, when he came to Ballymaloe for a visit. Marlborough landed at Cork and Imokilly was once more plagued by conflict. The port of Cork made many fortunes and the wealth washed into Ballymaloe but the area did not escape the War of Independence when revolutionaries came to call.”
I have to admit I was fascinated by how beloved Ballymaloe is to its customers and I wanted to understand why many guests keep coming back again and again, some over a 30 year timespan and why the staff absolutely love working there? There are many Irish country houses on this island but what are Ballymaloe doing so right to deserve such loyal devotees? To understand this, one only has to scratch a little below the surface. I am no expert in this field; however this is my own honest interpretation. It has a beautiful setting and a rich history that is celebrated and preserved, the food is not just food, it is organic, local and grown at Ballymaloe, there is a lot of knowledge and know how behind everything that is served. It is the attention to the details like the organic Jersey cow butter for me as a food lover that stands out. It`s the best butter you will taste. Homemade scones with butter and jam are absolutely delicious, evoking all those memories of just out of the oven still warm scones that your mother might have made. It is the nasturtium flowers and leaves that I caught a maid picking from the grounds, that were destined for the evenings spread, I just love that as it is the reason I grow nasturtiums myself.
The Friday night buffet is just an awesome feast that any foodie just has to experience just once. It really has a sumptuous celebratory feel and showcases the Ballymaloe grown heritage vegetables, meats and local seafood, keep an eye out for the lobster vol au vents and when you find them don`t be polite and just have one (you will regret only having one!). Details of the buffet are here.
Finally Ballymaloe is a family run enterprise and that I think that is most definitely why people keep coming back again and again. The guest is made to feel at home in a family home and anyone who has spent time in the company of Rory will understand what the meaning of welcome and hospitality is. Because despite being the head of this large organisation Rory will make you feel at ease and I might say, one is always left with the feeling of having enjoyed spending time in his company. This atmosphere and vibe cannot be bottled and Ballymaloe has it in bucket loads. Add to that, if you do decide to dine at Ballymaloe you will (not might) run into food stars like Myrtle, Darina, Rachael Allen and Rory O’Connell.
Below are some details of Ballymaloe house, cookery school and the Grainstore.