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Pgds 20080619 222123 Downhill Co Londonderry Ni  Ntpl 12141


Downhill is a landscape park with a late-18th-century house, now ruined, on a clifftop site. Entered via two ornamental gates, the site retains many ornamental features including the Mussenden Temple, a mausoleum, a lodge and a belvedere. There is a walled kitchen garden (not in use) with a combined dovecote and ice house, and a gardener's cottage. Much of the park is a treeless, sheep-grazed field overlooking the sea, but there is a wooded valley on the eastern side of the site.

The demesne is situated on a clifftop site overlooking the sea and Downhill Strand, from which there are views of the Mussenden Temple on the cliff edge. The demesne is now largely an undulating grass field. There are wide views along the coast and westward across Lough Foyle to the hills of County Donegal.

Entering via the Lion Gate, the line of the former drive winds up the hill towards the house, which is now a roofless ruin, conserved as a more or less intact shell. The house faces inland and commands views into the park. South of the house, on a high point in the park, stands the Mausoleum. This is a distinctive structure, strictly a cenotaph rather than a mausoleum since it was designed as a memorial rather than a tomb. It is an open arcaded structure on a square basement. The ruins of the former rotunda on top of the monument now lie piled at its base.

The Mussenden Temple, a circular domed pavilion of decorative ashlar, stands on the cliff edge, flanked by a rubble wall. Its windows look along the shore in either direction and directly out to sea, but not inland. Its interior is now a shell. Along the cliff to the east, a shell of a stone building looking out to sea represents the remains of the Belvedere. This is set among trees in a sheltered dell.

On the western edge of the grounds, the kitchen garden is seen against the backdrop of Lough Foyle. The decorative stone walls divide the site into compartments on a south-facing slope. The garden is not in cultivation, and is grassed. Within the garden is a circular domed stone building, the dovecote. In its basement is the ice house. On the northern side of the complex is the former gardener's house, which is lived in. Nearby are two ponds, perhaps former fishponds.

The Bishop's Gate is a separate entrance further east. This consists of a pedimented Roman arch, with a lodge next to it. The lodge is in an architecturally mixed style, with classical and Gothick features. The gate gives access to the Black Glen, a sheltered valley in which trees and shrubs grow freely, in contrast to the park above. Next to the house is a private flower garden. This extends some distance along the valley towards the sea.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details


Half a mile west of Castlerock off the A2.


The National Trust

Heelis, Kemble Drive, Swindon, SN2 2NA

The Downhill demesne was acquired by Frederick Hervey, fourth Earl of Bristol, following his appointment as Bishop of Derry in 1768. The house was begun around 1770 to designs by the Earl-Bishop and his architect adviser, Michael Shanahan, originally a sculptor from Cork. The project progressed slowly, partly because Hervey kept changing his mind and giving Shanahan little notice of his intentions. It appears to have been completed around 1787.

Meanwhile the demesne was taking shape on its dramatic but difficult clifftop site with views along the north coast and across Lough Foyle into Donegal. The walled kitchen garden was laid out in 1778 and extended in 1783. The combined dovecote and ice house was built in the kitchen garden in 1786. Two principal entrances were built, firstly the Lion Gate in 1780 and then the Bishop's Gate in 1784, both with attendant lodges.

In the park, the Mausoleum, a memorial to Hervey's brother, was constructed between 1779 and 1783. The Mussenden Temple, dedicated to Hervey's cousin's sister, was built on the cliff edge from 1783 to 1785. Other ornamental features such as the Belvedere were also built at this time.

Sheltering and decorative plantations of trees were planted in the park, but these have not survived, perhaps due to the exposure of the site. In the Black Glen between the Bishop's Gate and the sea, however, there is plenty of tree cover.

In 1803 Hervey died and left the estate to his cousin, the Reverend Henry Bruce, brother of Mrs. Mussenden.

In 1839 the Big Wind demolished the rotunda and statue on the top of the Mausoleum. In 1851 a serious fire destroyed the interior of the house, including the collection of statuary formed by Hervey during his long periods in Italy.

The house was remodelled between 1870 and 1874 to the design of John Lanyon. The house was no longer lived in after 1922, and fell into decay. In 1950 the Bruce family un-roofed the house and disposed of the estate. The National Trust acquired the Mussenden Temple in 1949, and the rest of the demesne in 1980.


  • 18th Century
  • Late 18th Century
Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Environment and Heritage Service of Northern Ireland Heritage Gardens Inventory

  • Reference: L005


English Landscape Garden


  • Cenotaph
  • Description: The Mausoleum in the park is strictly a cenotaph rather than a mausoleum since it was not built as a tomb. It is a stone eyecatcher (seen from the house) on a hill in the park. It consists of an open arcaded structure on a square base. The former open rotunda with its statue of the Earl-Bishop's brother was blown down in the Big Wind of 1839. Its broken remains are piled at the foot of the monument.
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  • Gate Lodge
  • Description: There are two lodges at Downhill. The first is next to the Lion Gate and was built around 1780. The second is next to the Bishop's Gate and was built in 1784. This lodge is a rectangular single-storey ashlar building with rusticated surrounds round arched windows. There is gothick detailing, including clustered columns, roofline pinnacles and a pointed-arch doorcase, on an otherwise classical structure.
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  • Belvedere
  • Description: The Belvedere lies in a sheltered hollow overlooking the sea. It is now a circular battlemented stone shell, with some remains of tree planting nearby.
  • Pond
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: The kitchen garden was formed in 1778 and extended in 1783, with the dovecote and ice house added in 1786. The garden consists of stone-walled rectangular compartments on a south-facing slope, now disused and grassed down. The combined dovecote and ice-house is part of the complex, which also includes the gardener's cottage and the fishponds.
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  • Temple
  • Description: The Mussenden Temple is a circular, domed garden building on the edge of the cliff in the park. It was built from 1783 to 1785 for the Earl-Bishop, who was assisted in its design by Michael Shanahan. The building is raised on a plinth and constructed of ashlar with attached Corinthian columns, with an external dado of the Vitruvian scroll. There are relief swags between the capitals. On the entablature is a Latin inscription referring to that pleasure of watching workers in a turbulent sea from the comfort and safety of land. The name 'Mussenden Temple', inscribed over the entrance, refers to Hervey's relation by marriage, Frideswide Mussenden, who died during the construction of the temple. The roof is of lead, with a swagged urn as a finial. The octagonal interior has lost its former decoration. There are three windows, one looking each way along the cliff and one out to sea. There is a basement room with a vault springing from a central column.
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  • Ha-ha
  • Icehouse
  • Description: The icehouse is in the basement of the dovecote, an unusual arrangement.
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  • Dovecote
  • Description: The dovecote was built in 1786. Like many of the Earl-Bishop's buildings, it is circular on plan, with a domed roof. In its basement is an ice house.
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  • Gateway
  • Description: The Lion Gate was built around 1780 as the principal entrance to the demesne, giving onto the drive through the park to the house. The gate consists of two tall gatepiers of rusticated stonework capped by statues of lions (could be mastiffs?). There is a lodge next to it.
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  • Garden Building
  • Description: The single-storey gardener's cottage forms part of the kitchen garden complex laid out in 1778 and extended in 1783. It stands on the northern edge of the layout.
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  • Triumphal Arch
  • Description: The Bishop's Gate is an ashlar arch with a pediment bearing the bishop's arms in relief. It is flanked by short lengths of rusticated screen wall with pilasters and an entablature decorated with relief swags. One length of the wall bears a round-headed niche; the other is pierced by a round-headed pedestrian doorway. The lodge is attached to this wall.
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  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Downhill Castle was built from the 1770s to around 1787 to the joint design of its owner, Frederick Hervey, fourth Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, and Michael Shanahan. The house was a substantial rectangular stone block on a rusticated basement, with full-height bays and the roofline decorated with at least one dome. The interiors included a large space intended to house the Earl-Bishop's collection of statues brought from Italy. A low, castellated service wing projected northwards towards the sea. The house suffered a serious fire in 1851, and was remodelled in the 1870s to the design of John Lanyon, who left the outline substantially unaltered. In 1922 the house was abandoned and fell into decay. In 1950 the roof was removed, and the house stands now as a shell.
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Key Information


Landscape Park

Principal Building



Late 18th Century



Open to the public




  • Bence-Jones, M {A Guide to Irish Country Houses} (London: Constable, 1990)
  • Howley, J {The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland} (London: Yale University Press, 1993)