The Bishops House at Downhill Demesne (also known as Downhill House or Downhill Castle) is an immense and impressive structure. This image of the structure will provide you with insight in how large the ruined structure is and will help provide scale to the images in the gallery below.
The Downhill Castle was built in the late 18th century for Frederick, 4th Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry (popularly known as ‘the Earl-Bishop’), at Downhill, County Londonderry. Much of the building was destroyed by fire in 1851 before being rebuilt in the 1870s. It fell into disrepair after the Second World War.
During World War Two, the house was used to billet Royal Air Force servicemen and women. The Bruce family continued to own the house until 1946. By 1950, it had been dismantled and the surrounding land sold. The house was acquired by the National Trust in 1980 whereas the Mussenden temple had become a Trust property in the 1940s.
Just the night before, we were standing on Downhill Strand which is the stretch of beach below this gorgeous structure.
This morning we decided to visit the Mussenden Temple up close and personal.
Named in honor of his cousin Mrs. Frideswide Mussenden, whose beauty he greatly admired, this was the Bishop’s library. Its walls were once lined with bookcases. A fire was kept burning constantly in the basement. This and its enclosed flue meant that, even in this very exposed location, the books never got damp.
“I intend to build a Grecian temple in Frideswide’s honor…I intend to build it on the edge of a cliff. It will give employment to the poor, to the district and employment.” The Earl Bishop was clearly heart broken when Frideswide died.
Over the years the erosion of the cliff face at Downhill has brought Mussenden Temple ever closer to the edge, and in 1997 The National Trust carried out cliff stabilization work to prevent the loss of the building.
The inscription around the building reads:
“Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem.”
“Tis pleasant, safely to behold from shore
The troubled sailor, and hear the tempests roar.”
Downhill Castle was built by the eccentric Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry. The building of this massive structure began in 1772 which continued with the rear courtyards until the early 1790s.
Downhill Demesne, the Mussenden Temple, the grounds encompassing the temple, and its manor house (Downhill Castle) is now a National Trust property and is open to the public all year, from dawn to dusk. I would highly recommend a stop if ever in the area; the grounds and what it holds are beyond beautiful.
In the feudal system, a demesne was all the land which was retained by a lord of the manor for his own use and occupation or support, under his own management, as distinguished from land enfeoffed by him to others as sub-tenants.
The Demesne also includes a dovecote, walled gardens, a belvedere, or summer house, built for the Earl-Bishop’s daughter and a mausoleum dedicated to his brother George, 3rd Earl of Bristol, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Travel along with us as we get closer to the remarkable structures that the property contains.
Dan and I had already experienced so much and this, our third day, did not disappoint. We woke up early and drove to our next area on our must see attractions in Ireland. We parked the car and walked the road down to take in this beautiful site… The Giants Causeway. It was a beautiful morning and we had the area to ourselves. The rock formations and basalt columns in this area were formed over 60 million years ago by volcanic activity. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven or even eight sides and tallest columns are roughly 39 ft high. While I know the interlocking columns were formed as the result of ancient volcanic activity, but I prefer the story of legend.
The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realizes that his foe is much bigger than he is. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn would be unable to chase him down. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa.
We didn’t not have much time to explore as we needed to move on to our next location. We will definitely be back as there is so much more to see and hike. Some of the best-known sights include, but are not limited to, the Harp, the Organ, the Wishing Chair or Throne, the Chimney Stacks, and the Camel, who served as Finn McCool’s horse. Can you spot the Chimney in the background of some of the images?
After a nice supper, Dan and I headed back to meet Brian, our wonderful host, at Kilmail Country Chalet. Brain had offered to take us to an overlook to watch the sunset and we graciously accepted. We would have never experienced the wonder of this place without him. Our first stop was Downhill Beach. We proceeded to drive onto the beach and headed closer towards the Mussenden Temple where one could see the train coming from or going to Coleraine passing through the mountain tunnel.
Downhill Beach is used in the filming of Game of Thrones as Dragonstone, where the Seven Idols of Westeros were burned and Melisandre, as flames dancing into the night sky, proclaimed: “For the night is dark and full of terrors.”
From Downhill Strand, we traveled along a twisting road (The Bishops Road) to higher ground to take in the sunset. This location, Binevenagh Mountain, was very much off the beaten path and not on our itinerary. We were lucky to have Brian there who shared countless facts and history about these places. The mountain also holds another gem, a statue of a Celtic sea god, Manannan Mac Lir. In the tales, he is said to own a boat named Scuabtuinne (“wave sweeper”), a sea-borne chariot drawn by the horse Enbarr (“water foam”), a powerful sword named Fragarach (“the answerer”), and a cloak of invisibility (féth fíada). He is seen as the ruler and guardian of the Otherworld.
I will be introducing you to giants on our next stop! See you soon.
Our days were spent driving, hiking, and taking in the beauty that Ireland has to offer; we enjoyed every minute of the day. On our second day in this area, we drove the Causeway Coastal Route until it became late enough that we headed back towards our Bed and Breakfast. As mentioned in my previous […]
After some much needed rest, we started our day with a traditional Irish Breakfast at Kilmail Country Chalet. Again our hosts were beyond anything I could have wished for. I hope to one day make it back to this lovely establishment. We had a couple days to explore in this area so we decided to […]