UCC hosts memorial lecture as it acquires Myrtle Allen archive

UCC hosts memorial lecture as it acquires Myrtle Allen archive
Fern Allen examining Mrytle Allen's archives in Ballymaloe House with Regina Sexton, Food Historian, UCC. Picture: Clare Keogh

UNIVERSITY College Cork (UCC) has announced plans to establish an annual Myrtle Allen Memorial Lecture in honour of the Cork woman who is seen as a pioneer in Irish food.

The university today revealed that it has acquired the Myrtle Allen Archive of papers. Spanning over 100 years, the Myrtle Allen Archive is seen as a treasure of insight into a woman whose approach to cooking and Irish produce would come to frame much of how we engage with contemporary Irish food culture.

In recognition of Myrtle Allen’s contribution to Irish food, the inaugural Myrtle Allen Memorial lectures will take place today at UCC. The event, which will become an annual affair, will feature speakers including one of the most respected food writers in the world, Claudia Roden, the Michelin star chef, Ross Lewis and John McKenna, McKennas’ Guides.

These events will also coincide with the launch of UCC’s unique Post-graduate Diploma in Irish Food Culture in Adult Continuing Education and the Department of Folklore and Ethnology.

The Myrtle Allen Archive will be housed at the Boole Library in UCC to inspire and guide future scholarship. “We are honoured to become the guardians of the works of Myrtle Allen whose legacy extends far beyond our borders and across generations,” said Professor Patrick O’Shea, President of UCC. “It is fitting that these archives will reside in UCC, in a region that has a deep heritage in the craft and art of food.”

Allen, who died in June 2018 at the age of 94, significantly changed the course of Irish food culture.

In 1975, Allen, an unassuming farmer’s wife with six children from the small village of Shanagarry, in east Cork, won a Michelin Star for her county house restaurant, The Yeats Room, in Ballymaloe House.

Myrtle Allen pictured celebrating her 90th birthday in Ballymaloe House.Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Myrtle Allen pictured celebrating her 90th birthday in Ballymaloe House.Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

She was the first Irish women to receive the accolade and she remains one of just two women to hold the award in the Republic of Ireland.

Her work in the kitchen and her food activism defined her life and her achievements were recognised in her lifetime by gastronomic luminaries like Paul Bocuse, one of the most prominent chefs associated with the nouvelle cuisine movement, and Claus Meyer and René Redzepi of the New Nordic Cuisine movement.

Today, a large and growing community of chefs, food producers and market-stall holders see Myrtle Allen as the force which redirected the course of Irish food culture over the last two generations.

Myrtle Allen kept meticulous records and the archive includes journals from the restaurant, daily menus, inherited hand-written family manuscript recipe books, correspondence with producers and chefs, restaurant and hotel reviews, and scrapbooks of traditional recipes that were sent to her by readers of the Irish Farmers Journal.

There are also letters of advice to fledgling chefs, drafts and proofs of her 1977 book, The Ballymaloe Cookbook, and photographs and files that reflect her interest in history, local history, genealogy and travel.

Box after box and cabinet after cabinet hold papers that document her remarkable relationship with food.

“We are delighted that UCC has chosen to take our mother’s papers,” said Myrtle’s daughter, Fern Allen.

“She kept meticulous records and it is wonderful to know that they will be preserved and stored safely and that they will be available in time for study and research,” she added.

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