Hello and welcome to this weekend’s virtual walk.
You will remember that I was in Northern Ireland the other day and brought you on a quick visit to Dunmurry .Our journey continues today to the very northern edge of the Antrim coast – come along with me to visit one of the most photographed buildings in Ireland – the historic Mussenden Temple .
The day is cold and overcast, typical January weather. There was a heavy fall of snow yesterday so the roads are treacherous and slippy. The Mussenden temple stands within the Downhill Demesne and there is a good car park and visitor centre – but as we approach the gates are locked and the estate is closed due to the Icy conditions… well darn that !! However, luckily for us there is a park ranger about who tells us that the eastern Bishops gate is open if we care to take our chances – so we will head up there to take a look around.
Let’s park the car and head through the gate. The vast estate houses Downhill house, a huge mansion that was built in the late 18th Century for Fredrick, the 4th Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry. Today it’s a roofless shell as the building fell into disrepair after the second world war but luckily the property is being conserved and is in the care of the National Trust so that we can visit .
Apart from the sheep that are grazing I thought we were the only hardy folk to be out in the snow but we are met by one of the gardeners, Una, who is going to give us a personal tour and bring us to see the Mussenden temple . As we go along Una points out the dove cote and mausoleum that are on the estate , and as we trudge through the snow and slush she finds us the best and safest route out to the temple and boy is it worth the walk !
As we approach the cliffs we can see that Mussenden Temple is a small circular building that is dramatically perched right on the edge overlooking Downhill strand and the Atlantic ocean . Una tells us that it was built in 1785 by the Lord Bishop and was a wedding gift to his niece, Mrs. Frideswide Mussenden and named in her honour. It was designed on classical Roman architecture – similar to the Temple of Vesta and was used as a library. In fact a fire was kept in the basement to keep the building warm and dry and preserve the books contained within.
As we take a closer look we can see an inscription around the building that 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.”
Long ago it was possible to drive a carriage around the building, but if you take a look at the aerial photo that I found you can see that coastal erosion has brought the temple ever closer to the edge and today it’s perilously close to falling the 120 foot drop into the sea. Luckily stabilisation works have taken place in recent years – so we are safe today !!
Una tells us that nowadays it’s no longer a library and often used for weddings and concerts . Can you imagine attending a gala event here ? It would be simply spectacular !!
It’s a pity that it’s so overcast and chilly today Una says that during the summer the grounds are spectacular and the flowers are in bloom – so we must make a date to come back again when the weather is better . However, I think that you will agree that is a spectacular landmark and well worth a visit at any time of the year.
My thanks again to Una for a wonderful tour and all her help , and I hope that you enjoyed coming along with me today.
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