The late Ivan Allen came to live in Shanagarry aged 17 in the depths of the depression in 1932, at the invitation of Wilson Strangman. As it was hard to make conventional farming pay, they planted orchards and sold apples. Ivan built glass houses and grew cucumbers and tomatoes and then developed a mushroom growing business. These limes proved to be very profitable up to the 1970’s.
After Ivan Allen completed a training in apple growing in the UK and a visit to the Lee Valley glass house district, Ivan returned to Shanagarry, sold the year’s apple crop and then in the winter he started to build glass houses. They soon had a thriving business turning out tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms and apples.
In 1948 Ivan longed to expand into mixed farming and Ballymaloe was bought from the Simpson family, descendents of the Lichfields who had owned the house and estate for over 100 years.
Mr. Strangman died in 1958 leaving the property to Ivan. He, in turn passed the Shanagarry farm to his son, Timothy on his marriage to Darina O’ Connell who had been working with Myrtle, who by then had started her restaurant.
Ivan and Myrtle at first, lived as a farming family in the big house at Ballymaloe with their six children.
Ivan became known as a successful and innovative farmer, he was also a great gourmet. Myrtle became skilled at cooking the wonderfully fresh produce from the two farms and became the cookery correspondent to the Irish Farmer Journal. With the children growing up and moving out it was a short step to opening as a restaurant and then a hotel.
How it all started
"I suppose it all started in 1932 when Ivan, aged 17, came to help Wilson Strangman to run his farm at Shanagarry. Times were hard but he and Ivan diversified their production brilliantly into alternative crops. These were and still are the basis of our cuisine."
"In 1943, in wartime, large quantities of tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers and apples were being exported from the farm to England and Wales. The surplus came into my kitchen along with cream, butter and eggs and slowly I learnt how to cook with them, guided by my gourmet husband."
"In 1964 I felt confident enough to open our dining room as a restaurant for dinner on five nights a week. I knew our food was good but I didn't expect to get so many awards. As farm prices went down we expanded our rooms and restaurant business."