It was a beautiful sunny spring day, a rarity in itself after so much bad weather recently, so I was glad to get out and explore a part of the country I had never visited before. Mullingar is a garrison town in Co. Westmeath, in the Irish Midlands, and it is famous for the late Joe Dolan, who was known as "The man from Mullingar". Joe boosted our fragile national pride back in the '70s when we were still very insecure, there were no jobs and everyone expected to emigrate, as he had international hits with "Make me an Island" and other popular songs. He is immortalised in Mullingar town centre with a bronze statue made by Genesis, a local company.
The showband era in Ireland is a peculiarity of this island and much has been written and filmed about it, most famously in the film version of William Trevor's short story The Ballroom of Romance, coincidentally made by a Lismore man, the internationally renowned film director Pat O'Connor, who is married to Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, the film star.
The grounds of Belvedere House are parkland dotted with obscure follies which reflect the owners' vanity as well as their state of mind at the time. The most fascinating is the Jealous Wall, the largest folly in Ireland, which was built to hide a more imposing mansion, Tudenham House, now in ruins, that the brother of the 1st Lord Belvedere, Robert Rochfort, had built nearby and was visible from the terraces of Belvedere House. He couldn't bear to have to see this daily reminder of his brother's wealth so he blocked it with this facade! A classic case of status anxiety, and obviously keeping up with the Jones's isn't a 20th Century invention. Robert seemed to have been paranoid, and a thoroughly nasty piece of work. He was known as the Wicked Earl, as he kept his wife, Mary Molesworth, imprisoned in the house for 31 years for alleged adultery with another brother.
We stayed in a nice B&B in a pub near Mullingar, as the hotels were either full or charging over the odds for the conference weekend. Mary Lynch's Pub is on the banks of the Royal Canal that goes all the way to Dublin from the Shannon for 146km. It was pleasant, warm and comfortable, with a delicious full Irish breakfast to start the day, and the pub itself was a real old world local - not an ersatz Irish pub with faux artefacts like so many are nowadays.