Christmas at an Irish country house. Ballymaloe House, Ireland

Grab a mince tart and feast your eyes and ears on Christmas at the iconic Irish country house and food mecca, Ballymaloe House.

With seven dining rooms, a conservatory, several stairways, landings, window arches and lobby areas, Iona Murray – resident floral stylist, certainly has her work cut out for her.

This huge task is done mostly with fresh florals from Ballymaloe’s gardens and hedgerows.

Ballymaloe House, Gardens and Cookery school is an Irish culinary institution, of the best kind. It’s situated in the rolling countryside of East Cork, just a couple of miles from the coastal village of Ballycotton.

For over 50 years, the ever growing Allen family have been offering world class dining and accomodation.


With a full calendar of events and festivals at the property across arts, food, music and gardening, Ballymaloe continues to evolve and progress yet at the same time stay true to traditions, family values and high quality offerings.

Iona does the flowers for Ballymaloe all year round and is like a kid in a candy store each December when she’s “allowed to go slightly wild” in the house.

I had a lovey afternoon with Iona last year talking about her role as forager flower lady for Ballymaloe. When she got onto the topic of Christmas, involving days of foraging for goodies in the wild and walled gardens on the property, I was mesmerised.

It’s an absolute treat to hear Iona chat about how she goes about dressing up the iconic Ballymaloe House.

Press play while checking out the gallery.

Christmas at Ballymaloe House image gallery

Image from 2017 Christmas by Daniel Callen from Ballymaloe Cooking School


Image from 2017 Christmas by Daniel Callen from Ballymaloe Cooking School
Image from 2016 Christmas by John Beasley
Image from 2017 Christmas by Daniel Callen from Ballymaloe Cooking School



Ballymaloe wreath
Image from 2017 Christmas by Daniel Callen from Ballymaloe Cooking School
Homemade gingerbread. Image from 2017 Christmas by Daniel Callen from Ballymaloe Cooking School
Image from 2016 Christmas by John Beasley
Conservatory installation. Image from 2017 Christmas by Daniel Callen from Ballymaloe Cooking School
Image from 2017 Christmas by Daniel Callen from Ballymaloe Cooking School


Ballymaloe closes to the public for Christmas so that the family can enjoy Christmas together in the House.

I asked Hazel Allen what Christmas looks like for the Allen family.

“Christmas Day is the one day in the year when my mother in law , Myrtle, closes the door to the public and invites all her children , grandchildren & great grandchildren to a Traditional Christmas Day lunch in Ballymaloe. Our chefs kindly prepare turkeys , plum puddings and all the trimmings.

“The grandsons have fun in the kitchen while her youngest granddaughter allocates jobs for the rest including games for the little ones & keeping all of us , especially the cooks well supplied with yummy cocktails!

Members of the Allen family : John Beasely

“After a few traditional country house games , such as “sardines” – the little ones find beds, the oldies slip away and the cousins catch up with each other & chat about the adventures they have had during the year & plans for the following year,” Hazel Allen said.

Sounds like something out of a book. Divine.

Fresh Christmas flower arrangements

For those who love a bit of detail and curious to hear what was used for all the arrangements, Iona gives us a wonderful insight to her foraging and floral pieces here:

“I had great fun getting the “perfect” trees from the Wexford Christmas Trees at their farm, ( ) Joe O’Flynn was extremely patient with me… I was very fussy!

“We always use Irish grown Christmas trees. I try to keep it all local and Irish at the very least.  

“This year we used Nordmann Fir which are a beautiful dark green and quite full, great lasting and hold their needles well when they are watered.

Image: Iona’s tools, studio and a shop of the house in Summer. 


“I’ve been foraging for berried ivy – the good hard frosts we have had recently have brought the berries and they are now full and give great texture to arrangements. For holly this year I’m really into the variegated varieties and we a lovely one in the gardens.”

“I’ve also used a lot of larch branches which are covered in their own small miniature rosette cones and the Scots pine with its sweet cones that are tucked snugly against the branch and “fluffy” pine needles, both which again offer a lovely texture and depth and definition to winter arrangements. 

“We have also used willow whips which when brought in to heat of the house the buds open and stems are covered in small velvet white buds on deep burgundy stems that looks stunning in a white and silver arrangement. 

Photos below of Iona taken in warmer times!


“Also lengths of contorted willow which are very useful for adding height and drama to an arrangement. My other great staple at this time is, Hazel, both the standard wild one that produces cob nuts in the autumn and the wonderfully curly, contorted hazel with its fascinating shapes that offers great support to other elements of the arrangement and sense of movement, both types have lovely catkins that will open in the heat of the house.

‘The only flower I am buying in from the Dutch markets is the Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)- can’t resist them at this time of year (Red Lion – a true holly red scarlet and the the beautiful pure snow white of Christmas Gift). (I also really like the bicoloured variety Ambiance but didn’t get any this time for Ballymaoe, next time round!) They are so beautiful and showy and it’s lovey to watch them open and develop and see how the arrangements change as the flowers become the main focus of the arrangement. 

“And we use home made cookies (the Janes biscuit recipe) and dried orange slices amongst the decorations as a nod to Ballymaoe integral link to food. 

“I like to add sparkle to my Christmas arrangement and yes I do use, lots of lights, and tinsel (deep in the arrangement/tree/garland ) and glitter generally sprinkled about making a sparkly mess!) because I love the way it bounces light about, it’s my version of Christmas magic, and it reminds me of my childhood! I think I must be a magpie at heart because I need a bit of sparkle at Christmas it’s all part of the festive season to me,”

Congratulations Iona, it looks incredible.

Merry Christmas to all x

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