The cops had a boat tied up at the edge of the lake, just in case. With the times that are in it, a terrorist or a farmer might have launched an attack across the calm waters of Lough Ree.
There were three rings of security on the approach road, manned by uniformed gardaí. Inside the grounds of the Hodson Bay Hotel, knots of cops paced and stood, paced and stood. Some wore the baseball hats and jump suits that pass for riot gear.
One vehicle with a satellite dish was parked on the lakeside. This is called a Command and Control Unit and its cameras can pick up a cow farting or fish mating within a half-mile radius. Everybody looked darned serious, as if they were guarding Obama, or the pope, against the worst excesses of al-Qaeda.
Inside the hotel, the honoured guests were thinking. They were thinking about their seats and Nama, in that order. They projected long thoughts on their seats and Lisbon, in that order. But what they really couldn't get out of their minds was the budget that could seal the fate of their seats. And at the top table was their leader, the man charged with leading them and the country out of perdition, a man whose fate may already be sealed.
Brian Cowen's week began among his own, attending the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting in Athlone. Last week was the first week of the so-called '100 days' between now and the aftermath of the budget in mid-December. Nama began its tortured passage through the Oireachtas on Wednesday, and Lisbon goes before the people on 2 October.
Politically, he should survive Nama, give or take the Greens' throwing of the odd strop. If Lisbon passes, as seems likely, that's also in the bag. If not, he's toast.
By far the biggest challenge will be the December budget which, it is being flagged, will include major spending cuts. These are the 100 days that will shape the nation for decades to come. And at the helm is a leader whom most of the country have yet to be convinced by.
In the latest opinion poll, Cowen's satisfaction rating stood at 17%, that of his government at 11%. Fianna Fáil has never plummeted to such depths before.
Right now, the country expects more from its leader. It expects words that soothe and inspire, resolute actions that point a way forward in a manner that is fair to all sections of society. So far, Cowen doesn't appear to have cut the mustard. His standing is reflected in a Libertas advertising campaign against the Lisbon referendum due to be launched this week. Cowen's image is to be used as the selling point in an attempt to harvest support on the back of the taoiseach's poor standing.
Fate's greasy hand has certainly played a role in delivering him to this station. Who among his predecessors would have measured up to what is now required? Lemass might have, but that was a different era, when more pithy attributes were expected of a leader. Both men share an approach to politics that is pragmatic and businesslike, but Lemass was never called on to feel the nation's pain, or to give a boot up the rear to national self-esteem.
Communication deficit is put forward as one of Cowen's main problems. Another, though, is trust. He was part of the problem; how can he be the main driving force of the solution? Again, who among his predecessors would have won the trust of the Irish people at this time?
The final conclave of the Athlone think-in was, according to some of the parliamentarians, highly constructive. Cowen was reportedly in fighting form in front of his soldiers. Ironically, one of his renowned strengths within the party was communication skills.
At the final press conference he was flanked by his Lisbon warrior, Micheál Martin, and social and family affairs minister Mary Hanafin, both of whom will play key roles in the weeks and months ahead. Scattered around the room were little posters with the words 'Yes' on them. Yes, yes, yes.
After reading from a prepared script, Cowen took questions. In the past few weeks, he has loosened the shackles of jargon that tied him down, and is all the better for it. He explains questions about Nama cogently, splaying his fingers for effect and tapping them on the table. He is good on detail, an attribute that contributed to his solid reputation as a minister. Different skills are required for his current post.
Asked about the gamble that Nama represented, he said: "I don't accept that Nama is a gamble. The big gamble with this economy would be to do nothing."
On Wednesday, he found himself in his natural habitat, the chamber of Dáil Eireann. After proceedings were opened, Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan stood to demand that Cowen apologise to the Irish people for "lies" he told about the economy when he was finance minister. This was a bout of theatrics designed to impress party president Gerry Adams, seated in the Distinguished Visitors' Gallery.
Cowen didn't bite. He sat there, slightly slumped in the seat and looked up at Morgan, a quizzical expression on his face. He does not suffer fools gladly, but has grown into a role in which he must give the impression of infinite patience with all manner of clowns.
Every decision he made as finance minister was for the "common good", he insisted.
"I have said unequivocally on many occasions that I accept responsibility for every decision I have taken in government," he said.
Yet, despite Morgan's silliness, he was articulating a point that has traction with the public. Cowen's hands are dirty. He was in the engine room when the bottom was being flailed out of the property market. The hooley was organised by the Ahern-McCreevy-Harney triumvirate, but Cowen didn't perform any volte face when he arrived.
His slowness to react to the crisis last year could easily be traced back to his involvement at the top for the previous few years.
He is also the last man (or woman) standing. Ahern and McCreevy are gone, Harney is a busted flush. The rest of the senior ministers who sat around cabinet now give the impression that they were merely nodding donkeys while the country was being run into the ground.
As of now, Cowen isn't just a prisoner of the past, but of the future also. Nothing short of a miracle will stop Fianna Fáil going into opposition after the next general election, whenever that may be. Cowen's chances of surviving as leader thereafter are very slim.
Whether that will have a liberating effect on the rest of his time in office remains to be seen. Those close to him say he is determined to do his best for the country, a route that will involve abandoning some of the political instincts that are part of his DNA. Right now, he is batting for posterity rather than for the next general election.
On Thursday, he rose to give his tuppence-worth to the Nama debate. But he is not the leading voice on Nama. That's Brian Lenihan's baby. And whatever the many reservations people might have about Nama, Lenihan has certainly made a fist of selling his version of it.
If anything, Lenihan has eclipsed Cowen in the public mind. Both men have ability, but Lenihan revels in the communication game. He doesn't just endure media engagement like most of his colleagues, he appears to actually enjoy the cut and thrust of encounters with the fourth estate.
In any event, Nama is not the only game in town. Within a month or so it will fade to the background, likely to resurface as a bogeyman only if the gamble begins to turn sour.
Far more important to Cowen's immediate future is December's budget. On Thursday, Lenihan indicated that significant new taxes are not on the agenda.
Backbenchers in Athlone were particularly vocal on the prospect of serious cutbacks. If little or nothing is done to rectify the public finances – or at least set out a cogent plan to do so – then the country could be on a backward slide. If Cowen and Lenihan do push through serious cutbacks, there may be hell to pay, both inside and outside the party. That in turn could prompt a general election and usher in a new order. Politically, the budget will totally eclipse Nama and, unless there is a No vote, Lisbon as well.
Friday saw Cowen appearing in another habitat in which he is comfortable. The Global Irish Economic Forum kicked off in Farmleigh House. This is a conference designed to attract the sons and daughters of the diaspora. The diaspora is now a very big tent, including those who are native-born and made it good abroad; the offspring of native-born Irish people; those who are of an Irish heritage, even if their connections go back to the famine ships; and tax exiles, who also felt compelled to flee the country.
Irony attended this gathering of representatives of the diaspora. The diaspora is a phenomenon traditionally associated with the flight from grinding poverty in an oppressed land, and now they had come home to be cocooned in a large Ascendancy House. Reporters, drivers and other assorted rabble were corralled in the stables, to keep appropriate distance between them and the gilded ones.
Cowen opened the affair with a very good speech. At times like this, there is no problem with his communication skills. Similarly, in an address to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce last February, he managed to give the impression that he knew where he was going with the country, and wanted to get everybody on board. On both occasions, he was talking to people who regard themselves as businesslike and pragmatic, just as he is reputed to be.
Leading and talking to a nation is a much messier affair. Few would argue that he is a man of ability and innate decency, albeit he is weighed down with what are now referred to as "legacy issues", but he still has problems projecting himself.
The week that began with an attempt to inspire his troops in Athlone ended with Cowen seeking inspiration from those businessmen who had come home to save the country. He didn't have a bad week, but there will almost definitely be worse to follow. One hundred days minus seven and counting.