About Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne
Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple are part of the 18th century estate that once belonged to the eccentric Earl-Bishop Frederick Hervey, overlooking the coast of County Derry, Northern Ireland.
History of Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne
The Downhill Demesne was first created in the 1770s by Dr Frederick Hervey, the Bishop of Derry and 4th Earl of Bristol – Mussenden Temple was added in 1783. The house and temple overlook the picturesque Downhill and Benone Strands on the coast of County Derry, Northern Ireland. Together, they’re estimated to have cost £80,000, and were designed by the architect Michael Shanahan. Mussenden was based on Roman temples Shanahan had seen on his travels.
Mussenden was built for Hervey’s niece, Frideswide Mussenden, of whom he was reportedly very fond – some have even alleged overly fond. Mussenden was built as a library – and a retreat – for Frideswide when she visited. Rumour has it the scandal and gossip proved too much for her, and she died in 1785. Mussenden has effectively been her memorial ever since.
A major fire in 1851 damaged large parts of the house, including Bishop Lord Bristol’s extensive art collection – it’s believed notable works by Correggio, Rubens and Tintoretto were destroyed. Restoration work began in 1870: the house was kept in a largely similar style, with a few alterations to the layout and interior design.
During the Second World War, Downhill was used to billet RAF servicemen and women. After the war, the upkeep of the house became too much: it was dismantled and much of the surrounding land was sold off. The ruins of the house and some of the surrounding land was acquired by the National Trust in 1980 – Mussenden Temple had been passed into their ownership in the 1940s.
Coastal erosion has brought Mussenden closer to the edge of the cliffs every year, and the National Trust regularly complete work to ensure structural stability and safety.
Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne today
The grounds and temple are owned by the National Trust today – there are some gorgeous coastal trails, and Mussenden Temple remains an iconic beauty spot. It’s a licensed wedding venue in the modern world, and a particular favourite of photographers. Look out for the 17th century Hezlett House on the grounds: reportedly one of the oldest buildings in Northern Ireland, it gives a glimpse into the somewhat bleak realities of rural life.
Note that the coastal location means strong winds and adverse weather conditions can make a visit here somewhat unpredictable. Check the forecast before you go (visiting in a gale is heavy duty stuff) and wear appropriate clothing and footwear. There’s a café on site to warm up.
Getting to Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne
Mussenden Temple is about 20 minutes west of Coleraine – take the A2 (Mussenden Road) out of town towards Downhill. Some of the drive is glorious. Consider book parking as the National Trust has limited spaces available.
Castlerock train station is about 1/2 mile away (allow for a 40 minute walk each way), and the Ulsterbus 234 (Coleraine to Londonderry) stops at the crossroads nearby.