Matriarch of Ballymaloe celebrates her 90th birthday

Ann McCarthy and Mary Murphy hold the cake as Myrtle Allen blows out the candles at Ballymaloe House. It is also the 50th anniversary of the year she opened the world- renowned Ballymaloe House Hotel and Restaurant. Picture: Dan Linehan

From past and present, staff at Ballymaloe House gathered last night to help the renowned matriarch of modern Irish cuisine, Myrtle Allen, blow out the candles ahead of her 90th birthday.

They also presented her with a portrait of herself painted by the renowned portrait artist, Gentian Lulanaj, who has a studio and gallery on the grounds of Ballymaloe House.

Portrait of Myrtle Allen by Gentian Lulanaj.

Mrs Allen’s daughter-in-law, Hazel Allen, who has run front-of-house operations in Ballymaloe since the early 1970s, said staff were eager to share in the celebrations

“The gift of the portrait is a thank you and a genuine indication of the huge positive impact she has made on all of their lives,” she said.

Her birthday this Wednesday is doubly significant as it falls in the same year as the 50th anniversary of the year she first opened the world- renowned Ballymaloe House Hotel & Restaurant back in 1964.

Born Myrtle Hill, in Cork City on March 13, 1924, the daughter of an architect, she married farmer and horticulturist, Ivan Allen, in 1943 and in 1948 they bought a 300-acre East Cork farm with a country manor, Ballymaloe House.

In 1964, as her six children began to grow up and faced with the prospect of trying to maintain and keep the rambling old house, Mrs Allen persuaded her husband to allow her open a restaurant in their dining room, to be called The Yeats Room.

The restaurant’s food from the off was a version of Irish farmhouse cooking and was run on Mrs Allen’s ethos of only using the finest of local, seasonal produce with the chef’s job being to highlight the quality of that produce and not smother it with showy, culinary techniques.

At a time when many fine-dining restaurants rarely, if ever, changed their menus, Mrs Allen’s was written from scratch each day depending on what was available from their farm and other local producers, farmers, and fishermen.

The late chef Gerry Galvin once noted that her constantly changing menus and reliance on local, seasonal produce was “revolutionary” at the time, but Mrs Allen’s culinary philosophy has come to be accepted best practice the world over and she is universally acknowledged and renowned in the food world.

In 1981, Mrs Allen accepted an invitation to run a restaurant in Paris, La Ferme Irlandaise, serving up her take on modern Irish food to much acclaim. Her international standing was further acknowledged when she was invited in 1986 by her European peers, some of the most renowned Michelin three-star chefs in the world, to become a founding member of a new chefs organisation, Eurotoques International, dedicated to preserving traditional produce and dishes. She established and headed up an Irish chapter and eventually the entire group for three years.


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