Belvedere House, Gardens and Park is described as “A Jewel in Westmeath’s Crown”. It is certainly that. Open daily all year round, Belvedere House, Gardens and Park offers a great day out. Whether you’re visiting alone, with a group, or with family, there is something for everyone.
The 160 acre estate has over 10km of walking trails, a Victorian Walled Garden, gift shop, café and picnic areas. For the kids there is a Fairy Garden and multiple playgrounds.
Of course there is Belvedere House itself to check out and a number of beautiful follies to enjoy as you explore the grounds. We spent over four hours here and could have easily spent more. We were only sorry we hadn’t brought along a picnic to enjoy on the shores of Lough Ennell.
In addition to all this, a visit to the Belvedere Estate is a fascinating history lesson and anyone going through any kind of struggles with their family members, will probably leave feeling that things aren’t so bad after all!
Belvedere House and Robert Rochfort, the “Wicked Earl”
Belvedere House was built in 1740 by Robert Rochfort, who later became the first Earl of Belvedere and who was, by all accounts, a nasty piece of work. And that’s putting it mildly!
Having originally been built as a hunting lodge or villa, Belvedere House is quite modest in size compared with other country houses. It later became Robert’s primary residence in Ireland after his relationship with his wife Mary broke down. He put her under house arrest at their Gaulstown Estate and settled at Belvedere. She remained imprisoned until his death in 1774.
The reason? Robert suspected his wife of having an affair with his brother Arthur. So 31 years of confinement seems a fair punishment, wouldn’t you say?! As for Arthur, he had left the country but after returning years later, he was put on trial and fined £20,000. Unable to pay the fine he was sent to prison where he later died and his family were left destitute. Not hard to figure out why Robert earned the title the “Wicked Earl”. I could think of a few other choice words to describe him!
In comparison to poor Arthur, Robert lived the high life at Belvedere. He kept himself busy entertaining guests and spending his fortune! He did also invest significantly in the house and on improving the estate. A French Stuccadore was comissioned to create Rococo plasterwork ceilings, which are some of the most impressive in Ireland. Enhancements to the grounds and demesne included the addition of three follies. One of which, the Jealous Wall, remains the largest and most spectacular folly in the country.
The Jealous Wall and Other Follies
A folly is usually an ornamental building which serves no useful purpose. However, many of the follies found in Ireland, such as the Wonderful Barn, are thought to have been built as famine relief projects. As such, they at least provided employment to poor locals during difficult times. It could be argued that the Jealous Wall, the largest and and most noted folly in Ireland, also served some purpose. It is certainly not such a noble one though!
You see Robert’s younger brother George built Rochfort House (now Tudenham House) in 1942. The house is situated less than half a mile from Belvedere House. It was designed by Richard Castle, who also designed Belvedere House, but it was a much grander home. This didn’t really please Robert. The fact that is obscured one of the best views from Belvedere House and that the back of the house faced Belvedere, displeased him more.
This strained the relationship between the brothers and over the years, for a number of reasons, things continued to get worse. Finally, Robert decided that he wanted to block Rochfort House from his view altogether. The trees that were planted on his estate were never going to grow quickly enough to achieve that, so he commissioned the Jealous Wall instead. The rather elaborate and impressive design was completed around 1760. It is pretty incredible though, isn’t it?!
Today, from the terrace of Belvedere House, the trees are almost tall enough to get the job done and much of the Jealous Wall is obscured from view. On the far side of the wall Tudenham House does not look so grand any more either. It was gutted by fire in 1958 and while the outer structure remains largely intact, it is heavily overgrown with vegetation.
However, the Jealous Wall, having been restored, remains a wonderful landmark today and was definitely one of the highlights of my visit to the estate. Two other follies can also be found on the grounds, the Gothic Arch and Octagonal Gazebo. They are also worth seeing and the Gothic Arch in particular is very impressive up close.
Be sure to take a stroll through the beautiful Walled Garden. It was originally created in the 1850s to provide food and flowers for the house. It was further developed over the years and now contains a very impressive and colourful collection of plants, shrubs and flowers from all over the world. In the early 20th century there would have been at least ten gardeners working at Belvedere and in 1961 it was described as “one of the finest in the south of Ireland” by Country Life magazine.
There are five trails to enjoy, ranging from 1km (15 mins) to 3km (approx. 45 mins) in length. We took the 3km Earls Trail, a beautiful woodland walk following the shoreline along Lough Ennell and looping right around the estate. Lakeside, the walk is separated from the shore by woodlands but their are a number of side paths along the way that lead you down to viewing points, picnics spots and even swings! After completing the walk it was time for some well deserved tea and scones in the café to round off our visit.
For more information on Belvedere House, Gardens and Park and future events, check out their official website.
Entrance tickets can be purchased on the website for 20% less than you pay on arrival. Once purchased the tickets are valid for one year but trust me, you don’t want to wait that long!
Looking for accommodation nearby? Belvedere House is located just 5km south of Mullingar, where there are plenty of accommodations options whatever your budget. Check availability, prices and reviews here.
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