I’ve never been very curious about my genealogy. When someone asks my nationality, I’m blunt – “American.” Then I moved to the UK, where people can trace their ancestry back through direct descendants to Roman times. Over the holidays, I was invited to Christmas drinks at a country house built in the 1740’s and I jokingly remarked to the host “You have such a lovely historic home – it’s older than my country!” It was then I resolved to explore my roots a little bit more. As there is Irish heritage on my paternal side of the family tree, I put a visit to the Emerald Isle on my list.
This weekend I took the one hour flight over to County Cork to traipse through the Irish countryside where, generations ago, my ancestors might have roved. Something about the landscape is strangely familiar – the rolling hills, the scent of the sea, the modest main streets. But there’s a certain romance here – a cheeky Irish charm. And you couldn’t help but feel it at Ballymaloe House in rural East Cork.
The ivy-fronted 17th century country house built on Norman ruins is run by the Allen family and listed in Ireland’s Blue Book of historic hotels.
The house is set within 400 acres of grounds – so after breakfast, we grabbed a map and went exploring. We toured the walled garden where the restaurant grows its fresh produce, the algae-tinted ponds in the woods behind the house, and the vast golden-tipped wheat fields that lolled on as far as the eye could see, their feathery fronds bending in the breeze. The scenes reminded me of summers spent scouting through the forests and cornfields of my childhood.
After a bit of horsing around, we made it back to the house as lunch was being served. The Allen family are known throughout Ireland for their cooking; they have a Cookery School on the premises where you can book classes or just come for one of their daily demonstrations. The first and second course was buffet style – including a carvery with 3 different roasts (pork, lamb and corned beef). Afterwards, the dessert trolley is rolled tableside – but choosing one is the tricky bit!
After a dip in the pool, I’ll claim a little spot for my towel in the grass, read my Kindle and snooze off lunch.
I am really dig the Irish lifestyle already and it’s only day one…