Myrtle and Ivan Allen bought Ballymaloe in 1948 from the Simpson family. The Simpsons were known in the area for their parties and Myrtle and Ivan had in fact met at Ballycotton Lifeboat fundraising dinner at Ballymaloe a few years previously. Ivan had wide farming interests, growing tomatoes and cucumbers in glasshouses and mushrooms in dark wooden sheds at nearby Kinoith as well as managing the orchards there.
However, Ivan longed for a mixed farm and when Ballymaloe came up for sale he decided to buy it. Myrtle and Ivan spent the next sixteen years farming and bringing up their children. The farm was a success producing milk, butter, cream, eggs, home raised pork and veal as well as fruit and vegetables. Myrtle became highly knowledgeable about cooking their produce and began writing a cookery column in the Irish Farmers Journal.
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.