Ballymaloe Litfest of Food & Wine 19-21 May 2017
Submitted by J.R. Ryall on Mon, 21/03/2016 - 4:19pm
I'm thrilled to introduce Prue Leith, one of the guest speakers coming to LitFest16, as the first guest to contribute to my blog. Last year Prue came as an ordinary punter and had this to say about Ireland in her Spectator Diary:
"I have never heard anyone, ever, say a bad thing about Ballymaloe, the place, the hotel, the cookery school, anything. It’s 25 years since I was last there and the atmosphere and the quality are undimmed. The glasshouse and the veg garden are gob-smacking, the school is professional and fun, the hotel homely yet smart, and the Allen family, now swelled by children and grandchildren to dozens, is still in charge. We stayed at nearby Ballycotton where our host still picks clamsfrom the beach, where the fisherman still bring in lobsters and crabs and where the pub still throbs to Irish jigging, and sometimes, I’m afraid to say, to IRA songs.
Every small town in Ireland seems to boast an Earl, presumably the remnants of the English ascendancy, whose Earldoms were dished out by the British along with the land. Lots of grand houses got torched in the troubles, and I can’t help thinking they might be the lucky ones, relieved of trying to keep the ancestral pile watertight and upright. But you have to admire heirs who refrain from flogging the Lely’s and Gainsboroughs, while sitting under umbrellas on account of the leaks.
We searched Garden Visits.com. Up came a jewel, complete with river garden, wild flower meadow, lily pond and walled garden. The clincher was “the only garden mentioned in Arthur Young’s Tour of Ireland published in 1766. A “wild romantic garden” he called it. Who could resist?
So we drove for miles. The gates were open, but with a notice: “Closed due to winter damage.” The weather worn notice, abandoned lodge and stuck-fast gates suggested Annes Grove had been closed for years.
We decided to boldly go and bang on the big house door to beg admittance. We did bang, but the house, like the garden, appeared uninhabited. So maybe we could just explore a little? We did, and Arthur Young was right.
We walked like enchanted children in a secret garden. Until we met the mistress of the house. She was not pleased. Indeed she was very cross indeed.
“Didn’t you see the notice?”
“Yes, I know. I’m really sorry, but we’d driven miles and the website said you are open…
“But we are not open.”
“We did try to check, we left messages last night on your phone and we knocked on your door but there was no one in…”
"Of course there’s no one in. We are all out in the garden trying to repair the damage.”
Four large O.A.P’s getting a deserved dressing down from a small irate landowner in a bosky glade. It would have made a great painting.
- Talking of romantic bosky glades, Prue's latest novel, the Food of Love, looks pretty appealing, don't you think? Quercus £7.99