Thursday 23 February 2017

Dad's the word at Kim and Kanye's love nest

Gemma Fullam takes her father for posh nosh at Ballyfin, where his school dinners were less tempting in the 1950s

Gemma Fullam

Return journey: Gemma and her dad Aodan (80) arrive at Ballyfin Demesne, Co Laois, voted the world's best hotel by Conde Nast Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Return journey: Gemma and her dad Aodan (80) arrive at Ballyfin Demesne, Co Laois, voted the world's best hotel by Conde Nast Photo: Dylan Vaughan

The best father in the world and the best hotel in the world: a perfect pairing. My "James Bond car", as my dad calls it, zips through Ballyfin's black iron gates. He's 80, and the family is gathering to celebrate with some posh nosh in the 18th-century Palladian mansion.

My dad Aodan has been here before. Sixty-seven years earlier, his own father's Hillman trundled through the gates to deposit him and his brother at what was then one of the finest boarding schools in the country, run by the Patricians.

"The food was brutal," my father says, as we take our seats in the opulent State Dining Room. "One day, we got stew with a rabbit's foot in it - fur, nails and all. The bread was good. I survived on that."

Starter: Kilmore Quay scallops, lemon, broccoli puree, caviar. "I remember one time, some of the smart fellows took a salmon from the river and put it in the artificial lake. Sure, he was tearing around with no way out. They were told: 'Get him out!'"

Amuse bouche: whipped foie gras. "We used to have a film once a month," he recalls. "You'd be watching and next thing: black. If some fellow kissed a girl, the Brothers blacked it out. There'd be no such thing as seeing a girl in a togs!" As I taste the tiny treat, I wonder what the clerics would have made of nude-selfie queen Kim Kardashian, who honeymooned here in 2014.

Main course: Dexter beef fillet, truffle pomme puree, wild mushrooms. My father requests the fillet's cremation. The room in which we dine was a chapel during his tenure. "Each day started with Mass, said by Father O'Rourke, a nice ould divil, who'd often fall asleep during it. The church was the only part of the main house we were allowed into. Ballyfin was very strict, but education-wise, it was first class." The Brothers schooled my father for prep college in Ballyvourney, and a career in teaching. At his first post, a north Kilkenny school, he'd meet his future wife.

Dessert: Ballyfin Orchard apple, apple mousse, vanilla ice cream. A birthday candle illuminates present and past. My father looks across the table at my mother, seated where he once said his boyhood prayers. Kim and Kanye: eat your heart out.

Sunday Independent

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