Monday, July 15, 2013

Belvedere House - Location In My Jane Austen Ireland Book

Belvedere House, Lough Ennell, just south of Mullingar in central Ireland

I've been happily buzzing along in the writing of my new Jane Austen styled novel which I've set in Ireland in 1802, and I came across an interesting problem. Like all Jane Austen stories, my country family must travel to town for the social season. So I need to move my family from Athlone to Dublin.

This meant I needed to research the roads of Ireland in 1800, which carriage a family of high status might use, and where they might stop in the middle of their 90 mile journey. Fortunately, Ireland has amazing online archives and I was able to download such items as Taylor and Skinner's Maps of the Roads of Ireland - Surveyed in 1777.

I was able to map out exactly which roads they might take, the quality of the roads, the number of turnpikes, which was a charge for maintenance of a section of road where a man literally collected tolls and opened a gate to let you pass, and which distances were reasonable within a day, changing horses every 10-12 miles at the Irish equivalent of a coaching Inn.

I also read a tremendous amount about The Highway Act passed by Irish Parliament in 1614. I was amazed to learn that Ireland had a better system of roads than England during the Georgian era (1714-1830).

As quoted from a young English traveler in the 1780s:

"...for a country so very far behind us as Ireland to have got suddenly so much the start of us in the article of roads is a spectacle that cannot fail to strike the English traveller exceedingly."

So I plotted my characters route from Athlone to Dublin and found a central town for the family to stay the night. 
Map is from the Irish archive of roads in 1714. It's a fun map to play with if you desire.
Then I decided that my high class family would prefer to stay at someone's estate versus a coaching inn within the town of Mullingar. This led me to look at my DK Ireland guide and see if there were any interesting estates in the area. There are several! 

One of the houses has a fabulous history of a wicked Earl locking away his wife for thirty years and architectural mayhem due to jealousy over a brother's estate. So I chose Belvedere House, only a 1/2 hour carriage ride south of Mullingar as the family estate to host my characters for the night.

Ariel view of Belvedere House, Lough Ennell and gardens/woods

Thankfully, Belvedere House is now a public attraction and has a great website. So I looked at a bunch of pictures and read several different historical accounts of the house. 

I really like these curved wall rooms.
I decided to set a scene at the front entrance of the house, in a bedroom, and a drawing room which has these curved walls on the end. I found these historical interior shots for inspiration, although the furniture is too modern for 1802, the cornice and ceiling work is very similar to what I saw in other Georgian homes in Ireland.

Belvedere House Interior of curved wall drawing room.
Belvedere House Interior of another room.

Then I investigated the gardens and found a wonderful story about a ruined abbey folly in the gardens that was built by the wicked Earl to obstruct his view of his older brother's more magnificent estate. I thought this would be a great place for my young heroine to meet her first suitor. Jane Austen has a flair for dramatic entrances, so I thought I'd continue her tradition.

Ruined Abbey Folly at Belvedere House - called "The Jealous Wall."
What better place for two young lovers to first meet, than at "The Jealous Wall." Am I hinting at a wee bit of foreshadowing? Maybe...

Using locations to inspire stories - Woohoo! 

This Novel Travelist is signing off until next time.


  1. I can see a lot of inspiration in that location. Beautiful!

  2. Sara, what can you tell us about the story?

  3. How is it that you just keep getting more awesome?? Love this idea! I have a feeling I will get my hands on a Sara McBride Novel soon :).

  4. It's an Austen styled story - two young ladies have to find good husbands. But unlike most of Austen's heroines, mine have a dowry each of £15,000, so they also have to unmask the fortune hunters before it's too late. Being set in Ireland, it's fun to play with the Irish vs. English and Catholic vs. Protestant issues, especially when dealing with love, because the heart doesn't care what religion or loyalty the person serves, but the parents certainly do.