A short drive from Hezlett House brought us to the The Bishop’s Gate, one of the entrances to the Downhill Demesne that surrounds the former home of the Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. The word ‘demesne’ is used throughout Ireland. It indicates the part of the estate that was usually enclosed by a demesne wall and was for the use of the landowner only. Today the house, having been abandoned after the Second World War.
Donning our boots, we set off for a walk around the grounds.
We took the path that led through the Black Glen
A short sharp climb up some steep steps took us to the Belvedere
A short walk brought us to Mussenden Temple, perched on the edge of the cliff
Built in 1785 and based on the Temple of Vesta in Italy, it once held the Earl Bishop’s library. It is dedicated to his cousin Frideswide Mussenden with whom he may, or may not, have had a relationship. At one time it was possible to drive a coach and horses around the temple, but not today. Over the years the erosion of the cliff face at Downhill has brought Mussenden Temple to the very edge of the cliff, and in 1997 The National Trust had to carry out cliff stabilisation work to prevent the loss of the building.
Three other people entered the temple at the same time as us – a young man and two young women. They then proceeded to stand motionless staring into space, moving position occasionally but otherwise standing like statues. Weird and a little creepy!
Leaving the temple we took the path towards the remains of Downhill House.
The house was built for Frederick Augustus Hervey, the Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. Hervey’s brother George, who was the Earl of Bristol became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1766 and arranged for him to become Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland the following year and then Bishop of Derry (a wealthier and more prestigious See). He also became the Earl Of Bristol in 1779 on the death of his brother.
Although the house is in ruins it is still an impressive structure. Built in three main phases, it must have been enormous in its heyday.
Perched on the high ground above the sea, it has fantastic views
but with no shelter would also have been battered by the wind.
Leaving the house behind us we headed back across the lawns to the Bishop’s Gate, passing the Mausoleum dedicated to George, the Earl Bishop’s brother. The very least the Earl Bishop could do to show his gratitude to the brother responsible for his fame and fortune.
There used to be a statue of George on top of the structure, but it was blown off by the “Big Wind” of 1839