Ireland // Antrim and Derry //

Downhill Palace and Mussenden Temple

A mile west of the coastal resort of Castlerock, a pair of huge, ornate gates alongside the A2 mark the main entrance to the ruins of Downhill Palace, built in the 1780s by Frederick Augustus Hervey, Anglican Bishop of Derry and fourth Earl of Bristol. Hervey was an enthusiastic grand traveller (all the many Hotel Bristols throughout Europe are named after him), and was also an art collector and great sportsman, once organizing a pre-prandial race between Anglican and Presbyterian clergy along the local strand. His palace, accessed through pleasant gardens, was last occupied by US troops, billeted here during World War II, and was dismantled on their departure.

Across fields at the back of the palace is the diminutive Mussenden Temple, which clings precariously to the eroding cliff-edge and offers stunning sea views. Its classic domed rotunda was apparently modelled on the Temple of Vesta in Rome and was built by Hervey in honour of his cousin Mrs Frideswide Mussenden, who died aged 22 before it was completed, after which it was used as a summer library. Later, with characteristic generosity and a fairly startling lack of prejudice, Hervey allowed a weekly Mass to be celebrated in the temple, as there was no local Catholic church. The inscription on the temple frieze translates rather smugly as: “It is agreeable to watch, from land, someone else involved in a great struggle while winds whip up the waves out at sea.”

Just west from here the A2 curves steeply downwards to reach the appositely named DOWNHILL hamlet, on the edge of the hugely long beach. From here it’s possible to take the Bishop’s Road (constructed at Hervey’s bidding) southwards to reach Mount Binevenagh and its fabulous viewpoints. The land around the mountain is now a conservation park, dedicated to the preservation of birds of prey, in particular falcons and kestrels.

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