The Original Castle
Ballymaloe was a castle of the Imokilly Geraldines. Richard FitzMaurice FitzGerald was a son of the Knight of Kerry, who was appointed as Seneschal, or governor, of the area by the Earl of Desmond in 1440. The original castle was probably built by him shortly after that time. By the time of the Desmond rebellion, the occupant was John FitzEdmund FitzGerald who was known as ‘the Queen’s John FitzEdmond’ to distinguish him from the Seneschal of the same name who was a leader of the Insurrection and owned nearby Castlemartyr.
John FitzEdmund of Ballymaloe castle was an illegitimate son of Edmund by Honor Ni Donagh, ‘a woman of Muskerry’ and was well up in the list of efficient contrivers and gatherers of land of his time. John FitzEdmund appointed himself Sheriff of Cork in 1570 and during the Desmond rising he ‘dyd hang his (legitimate) brother James FitzEdmund’ in 1582. John refused to join O’Neill in 1599 and his lands were devastated, but he survived to be knighted by Mountjoy at Cloyne for his faithfulness in 1602.
In 1964, Myrtle, encouraged by Ivan, decided to open Ballymaloe as a restaurant. The children were growing up and she could see a different future ahead of her:
“On a winter’s day I sat by the fire alone and wondered what I would do in this big house when they were all grown up – Then I thought about a restaurant.”
Her aim was to emulate the best Irish Country House cookery. Myrtle and Ivan then placed an advert in the Cork Examiner: Dine in a Historic Country House. Open Tuesday to Saturday. Booking essential. Phone Cloyne 16.
So Myrtle scrubbed down the kitchen table, and with the help of two local women she began. They cooked on an Aga at first and she was helped front of house by Ivan and their daughter Wendy. Their shepherd Joe Cronin ran the bar.
The food was good and the restaurant flourished. They cooked using their own produce- unpasteurised milk and cream, veal, pork, homemade sausages and black puddings, herbs, fruit and vegetables. Ivan went to Ballycotton every day for the fresh catch. Local beef and lamb came from Mr.Cuddigan, the butcher in Cloyne. Myrtle also encouraged local farmers’ wives to bring in their surplus produce and blackberries, elderflowers and watercress were brought in by children for pocket money.
Although times have changed at Ballymaloe, the essential spirit of the place is rooted in these improvised beginnings and in the relationship of the farm to the table which underlies the elegance of Irish Country House cooking.