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Three generations of the Allen family at Ballymaloe. That’s Hazel (inn keeper), Ruby (undecided), and Roisin (Hazel’s youngest daughter). Photo by David Lansing.


So what’s a Ballymaloe? It’s a country inn. And a restaurant. And a cooking school. The original house dates back to 1450 (although it was recently remodeled in the eighteenth century) and is set in the middle of gorgeous Irish countryside just a mile or so from the little fishing village of Shanagarry, about half an hour south of Cork. The whole thing is run by the Allen family. One runs the hotel, another the cooking school, and so on.


As you walk around the property you’re bound to run into one Allen or another pouring tea, feeding the chickens, or stumbling along in the lobby (that would be Ruby, the youngest Allen, who just took her first steps two weeks ago but seems bound and determined to get out there and help out along with the rest of the family).

Yesterday morning when we were at breakfast, a lovely middle-aged woman came by the table and asked us if we’d like some fresh cream on our porridge. The thick yellow cream was in a Mason jar. “It’s from this morning’s milking,” she said. She wasn’t kidding. She dribbled some of the cream over my porridge and then on my fresh strawberries (from the garden), and eventually on my still-warm scone.

This was Hazel. Who is basically in charge of the hotel end of things. I thanked her for the fresh cream and then she was off. To offer cream from cows milked less than two hours ago to the other guests.

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The drive to Ballymaloe


A fairy tree in Ireland

A fairy tree in County Cork, Ireland. Photo by David Lansing.


At half-past nine Mr. Robert Daly arrived at The Fitzwilliam to take us to Ballymaloe, near Cork. Mr. Daly was in a bit of a panic since he was two minutes late. “I’m never late,” he assured me, stuffing our luggage in to the back of his mini-van. “But there were some complications this morning.”

The implication was that I could ask Mr. Daly what those complications were and, no doubt, here about them all the way to Ballymaloe, or just tell him it wasn’t a problem. I told him it wasn’t a problem.

At one point on the drive we got a bit lost and Mr. Daly pulled out the map scrunched in beside his seat and asked me to find the highway from Midleton to Shanagarry, which is the closest little village to Ballymaloe. I told him it was R629. Or R632.

“Well, which is it then?”

I told him either one would get us there.

“Yes, but, damnit, which do we want?”

And just at that moment, Mr. Daly saw a wee sign pointing towards Shanagarry and that’s the road we took, whatever it was.

Here’s the thing about Ireland: Everyone gets lost. Even professional drivers who’ve been driving these back roads for 20 years, like Mr. Robert Daly. The thing is that most of the roads are just narrow country roads and every few miles there’s a Y in the road and seldom any signage so you tend to wander off one direction, realize it’s not right, and then backtrack and take the other fork in the road. As long as you’re not in a hurry (and we weren’t), it’s a lovely way to travel.

And it lets you see a bit of the countryside. The endless green fields, the black-faced sheep, the fairy trees. Mr. Robert Daly pointed out several of the latter to us. And what, you may ask, are fairy trees? They’re lone trees, usually on a mound in the middle of a field, that, legend has it, is home to the little people. And out of superstitious belief, they’re seldom if ever cut down. Because who would want to destroy the home of a leprechaun?

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