Building projects

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Early Modern History (1500–1700), Features, Issue 3 (May/June 2012), Volume 20

Mussenden Temple, the bishop’s library, a replica of the Roman Temple of Vesta, perched precariously on the jagged basalt cliffs at Castlerock, Co. Derry

Mussenden Temple, the bishop’s library, a replica of the Roman Temple of Vesta, perched precariously on the jagged basalt cliffs at Castlerock, Co. Derry

The remnants and ruins of Hervey’s vast building projects still punctuate the landscape of Ulster—he ordered the building of stately glebe houses and added elegant spires to plain Protestant churches, determined, as he wrote, ‘to make the County of Derry look like a gentleman’. Most gentlemanly of all are the magnificent ruins at Downhill, where Hervey built a princely pleasure dome for himself and for his growing art collection, acquired on his frequent Continental tours. Some readers will be familiar with Mussenden Temple, the bishop’s library, a replica of the Roman Temple of Vesta perched precariously on the jagged basalt cliffs of the Causeway coast (now a popular venue for Ulster weddings). He was addicted to round buildings, and even had plans at Downhill for a ‘classical dog kennel’—complete with domed roof, Doric columns and ornamental canines atop—so that even the hounds would inhabit perfectly proportioned edifices. His invitation to William Hamilton to visit Downhill, what he called ‘my temple of the winds’, articulates his creation of a sanctuary of gentlemanly pleasures and aesthetic delights:
‘You shall have musick every day or no dayYou shall see the Giant’s Causeway by sea and by landYou shall see the extinguished volcano and almost burning onesYou shall have growse-shooting or not as you pleaseYou shall fish on salt water or fresh just as you like best—I will meet you where you please to bring you toThe most Romantic and perhaps the most sublime scenery you ever saw—

Only Come—’
The magnificent ruins of Downhill Castle nearby. (Eunan Browne)

The magnificent ruins of Downhill Castle nearby. (Eunan Browne)

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