Tag Archives: walled garden

Barryscourt Castle

I have a thing for castles. Maybe it’s because we never had any in America. These fabled crenellated fortresses bring to mind romantic mythical histories of bygone kingdoms – damsels in distress, knights on white horses, and colorful royal pageantry.

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When I saw road signs for Barryscourt Castle, I swerved for the exit eager to see the luxurious side of ancient Irish history. I was surprised to learn on my free tour that the reality of castle living was actually quite rough. The estate was the 16th century seat of David Barry (aka Lord Barrymore) and his wife Ellen Roche. The Lord and Lady entertained in a cold and drafty banquet room because the windows had no glass. The plumbing was primitive and the kitchen ill-equipped – not to mention the constant fear of being attacked; the castle had to be heavily guarded 24/7. Lord Barry intentionally burnt the castle in 1575 just to prevent it from falling into the hands of Captain Walter Raleigh. He later smoothed things out and rebuilt it – talk about Irish pride!

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The banquet room

The banquet room

Private living quarters of the Lord and Lady

Private living quarters of the Lord and Lady

Private chapel

Private chapel

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The walled garden was in full bloom – including an apple orchard!

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Heading back to the hotel, we passed through the little coastal town of East Ferry and took a few snaps.

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We wound down the afternoon with a friendly croquet match on the lawn. I  found out I don’t have a natural aptitude for the game – but it was fun to have a go!

Ballymaloe House

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.

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Prunes & Apricots | Strawberry Muesli | Porridge from Macroom Stoneground Oats

Prunes & Apricots | Strawberry Muesli | Porridge from Macroom Stoneground Oats

Warm Homemade Breads | Rhubarb Ginger Jam & Blackcurrant Jam

Warm Homemade Breads | Rhubarb Ginger Jam & Blackcurrant Jam

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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.

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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!

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Calamari | Fish Pie | Stuffed Mussels | Garden Greens

Calamari | Fish Pie | Stuffed Mussels | Garden Greens

Roast Corned Beef | Red Cabbage

Roast Corned Beef | Red Cabbage

Gooseberry Pie | Chocolate Mousse Cake | Strawberry Pavlova

Gooseberry Pie | Chocolate Mousse Cake | Strawberry Pavlova

Balls of homemade vanilla ice cream

Balls of homemade vanilla ice cream

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…