HUSBAND and wife Justin and Jenny Green run Ballyvolane House, in Castlelyons, Co Cork. The mansion and former dairy farm, which was built in 1728, is where Justin grew up. Raised to Scottish parents in Hong Kong, Jenny met fellow hotelier Justin while working in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Having worked in the UK and Bali, they returned to manage Ballyvolane House, as an Irish country house, in 2004.
Named Georgina Campbell’s Country House of the Year 2020, Ballyvolane House serves food from its own vegetable garden, has free range hens, a herd of rare pigs, and utilises foraged and locally sourced ingredients. Justin also runs Bertha’s Revenge gin distillery, which makes small batches of whey alcohol gin, with milk from local farms and locally picked sloes and herbs. Justin and Jenny are parents to Toby, 18, Jamie, 15, and Fleur, 12.
Jenny says: “In 1953, Justin’s grandparents bought the house. They were dairy farmers. It wasn’t a guesthouse, but in the ’80s, farming was having a miserable time of it, and my father-in-law had to sell a lot of the land and they converted to a guesthouse at that point.
“We’re both hoteliers by trade and we met in London; we took over the business from Justin’s parents in 2004. We had to fast-forward a bit from our grand plan, because his mother was in poor health, but we’ve been running it ever since.
“My parents are Scottish, and I was born in London, but all of my formative, school-age years were in Hong Kong, so I’m a real mixed bag. When Justin and I lived in England, we ran a country house hotel, which was very good training for the country life we have here,” she says.
“We’re thrilled to have received the Georgina Campbell award. What I love is that they visit everyone in the course of the year, so she’s not just going off last year’s visit. I think, she has a lot of respect and integrity in the industry. Justin and I work very hard and we have a great team, so we’re really delighted with this accolade,” Jenny says.
“Our business is very much farm-to-fork. Our children have grown up here and been involved since the beginning. Our walled garden is three acres and we don’t use all of that, but we use a portion of it to grow our vegetables. Justin’s dad, Jeremy, is still very involved with helping out with the vegetable gardening. We also keep our own pigs, and we find that a lot of guests are really delighted to know where their pork is coming from and how it has been treated.
“Toby is studying business in Dublin now, and Jamie and Fleur are in boarding school. Some people don’t understand why we chose boarding school: I didn’t board, so I wasn’t sure about it, but Justin had. Toby went and absolutely loved it, so it seemed natural for the rest to follow. Our home is our business, which can be difficult to juggle, and I don’t think it’s always easy when the kids hit their teens for there to be a load of guests in their garden. We live in quite an isolated, rural area, too. They come home at weekends and for holidays,” she says.
“When they were small, they had so much freedom to be outdoors. Friends with kids would visit from Dublin and, by the end of the day, they’d be saying, ‘I’ve hardly seen my kids today.’ They’d all be outside, together, playing and making hideouts. I think it gives children a tremendous respect for the environment to be close to nature and I hope that stays with them in their adult life,” Jenny says.
“Food waste is a pet peeve of mine and the children are very used to that. In the restaurant, we have a set menu, so we keep waste to an absolute minimum.
“Living in the countryside, we are very car-dependent and there’s no real way around that, I don’t think. If I could change one thing about our lifestyle, I would love to change my car to an eco-friendly electric car, but until the facilities for charging are improved, I could not consider it, as it simply wouldn’t be an option for a working mum in rural Ireland. I have heard so many disastrous stories of people reaching charging points that are not in use and being stuck.
“I don’t think it’s just a question of Ireland having an underdeveloped public transport system, because the population in the countryside is just too small to support a sustainable public transport system, so I don’t really see any solution to that. Because our business is our home, though, there’s less daily commuting than you might think, although Justin needs to have a van on the road to do deliveries for the gin business.
“Justin grew up with a farming background and thinking about things like sourcing things locally is second nature to him; when he was first investigating the idea of setting up the gin distillery, and he heard that it’s possible to use milk whey to make the alcohol, he knew it was a good fit, so we use milk from local farmers, which is great for food miles. Some of the spices and botanicals in the gin can’t be grown in Ireland, of course, but there are local ingredients, too.
“It’s amazing to see a young generation becoming so aware of the environment. I’ve found that the kids have really driven change in some areas. We generally have a pretty small amount of waste and we do composting and recycling, but the kids all got reusable, stainless steel water bottles, so we don’t buy any water in plastic bottles anymore and that’s really down to them making us more aware.”