Ireland: The walls hatred built

By Graham Reid

Graham Reid feels the impact of grand gestures at Ireland's infamous Jealous Wall.

The Jealous Wall at Belvedere in County Westmeath, Ireland. Photo / Graham Reid
The Jealous Wall at Belvedere in County Westmeath, Ireland. Photo / Graham Reid

In the old days, when posh people fell out they often did it with a grand statement. Not for them was cutting up the clothes of an ex-lover or scraping a key along the side of their car - they went for the big gesture. At least that's what Robert Rochfort, later to become the very nasty first Earl of Belvedere in County Westmeath in Ireland, did.

When he and wife Mary, the mother of his four children, split up in the mid-18th century - he accusing her of adultery with his brother Arthur who lived nearby - the angry Earl imprisoned her in a garret in their Gaulstown House.

It seems the charges were untrue. Another brother, George (who openly despised Mary) said he possessed some alleged love letters.

The married Arthur was shocked and fled the country, and the lady herself only pleaded guilty in the hope of a divorce from her mostly absent husband. However she remained a virtual prisoner at Gaulstown for more than 30 years.

The Earl, after locking her away, moved to his recently completed Belvedere House about 8km away on his estate, which had a commanding view across Lough Ennell and exquisite plaster work.

When brother Arthur made the mistake of returning home in 1759, the Earl sued him for adultery and the hapless Arthur spent the rest of his life in a debtor's jail in Dublin.

Then relations between the Earl and his brother George, who lived in his Tudenham mansion near Belvedere, became increasingly strained and finally the Earl, in a fit of pique, built a huge Gothic wall between their homes so he needn't see the now-estranged George's house.

This massive folly, built as a Gothic ruin, still stands on the grounds of the beautiful Belvedere estate and is known as the Jealous Wall.

As a gesture it is impressive, standing the equivalent of four storeys high and now overgrown in a dramatically beautiful way.

But this is not the only story at Belvedere: a subsequent owner, Charles Howard-Bury (1881-1963), had a remarkable life of travel and adventure. He was a soldier, botanist and later in life a politician.

He secretly entered Tibet in 1905, fought in the Somme Offensive, spoke half a dozen languages - and liked to wrestle bears. He brought one home to the estate and there are bear statues around the grounds. He also led an expedition to Mt Everest so was in the Himalayas with George Mallory in 1921.

Howard-Bury left the place to Rex Beaumont, his friend and companion for three decades and the last private owner until his death in 1988. In this very masculine house, with relics from Howard-Bury and Beaumont's adventures, there is also art work of satyrs that has an amusing homoerotic quality.

The Earl of Belvedere built a huge Gothic<BR>ruin and fairy garden full of statues<BR>on his estate. Photo / Graham Reid
The Earl of Belvedere built a huge Gothic
ruin and fairy garden full of statues
on his estate. Photo / Graham Reid

The house and magnificent gardens are open to the public; there is a delightful fairy garden of plants and statuary (one area of the grounds is called Narnia, incidentally) and there are walking trails around the sprawling property, which is an hour west of Dublin.

Belvedere is rich in history and grand statements.

And the fate of the good lady Mary, isolated at Gaulstown and abandoned by friends and family?

After the death of her husband in 1774 she was finally released from her imprisonment, but she was, by all accounts, a frightened and nervous woman, prematurely aged.

At Belvedere, the Jealous Wall stands as silent testimony to hatred, cruelty and the falling out of a family, so hard to comprehend in such beautiful and peaceful surroundings.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Cathay Pacific offers daily flights from Auckland to London via Hong Kong. Special fares are available. RyanAir flights to Dublin depart from Luton, Gatwick and Stansted.

What to see: Belvedere House, Gardens and Park.

Further information: See discoverireland.co.nz.

Graham Reid travelled to Britain and the Republic of Ireland courtesy of Cathay Pacific and discoverireland.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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