The dominant and intriguing ruin of Downhill Castle or Manse commands exceptional views along the coast. It is wrongly referred to as the 'Bishop's Palace' (the Bishop's Palace is in Londonderry). The house and estate which has landscaped gardens and walks covering over 150 acres was one of the most noted houses in Ireland along with its flambouyant owner Frederick Augustus Hervey, the Bishop of Derry and 4th Earl of Bristol.
The house was built as a country home for the Earl Bishop who had a great affinity for the area, he also had a home at Ikworth and Ballyscullion. Downhill was constructed between 1775–85 which included Mussenden Temple, the Mausoleum and Lions Gate. The building was designed by the architect Michael Shanahan under the Bishops’ watchful eye, he also designed Mussenden Temple and on the Bishops request, modelled it on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli in Italy.
The Earl Bishop travelled widely during his life, he was renown for this, so much so that his passion and knowledge of the classics and travelling inspired the trend which the Hotel Bristol became synonomous for in providing quality accommodation throughout Europe, inspiring an whole generation of travellers wishing to emanate the desired pastime of the period.
The Earl Bishop combined his love for travel with a passion for collecting art and antiquities, every journey saw him return with art and artefacts. He commissioned and paid for excavations in Italy to find rare marbles and other items for his collection, and tried to buy the original Temple of Vesta which he planned to dismantled and rebuilt at Downhill.
This was turned down by the vatican, so he had his own built from scratch. Interestingly an archeological digs at Downhill in 2009 uncovered a sculpture of a Roman Head which is believed to date to AD160-190 and is either Emporer Marcus Aurelius or his son Commodus, no doubt an artefact brought back from one of his many journeys.
During his life he amassed a large and priceless collection of art, at one time or another works by Rubens, Cavaggio, Tintoretto, Titian, Raphael, Rembrandt and many more graced the walls of Downhill Castle. He was a great patron to the arts, commissioning works from many of the emerging artists of the time.
When the Earl Bishop died in 1803 the property was left to his cousin, the Reverend Sir Henry Hervey Bruce, 1st Baronet (1752-1822) who at the time was Rector of Tamlaghtfinlagan, Ballykelly and also managed the estate and diocese when the Earl Bishop was away travelling. This inheritance cause a stir in the Hervey family as his wife and brother were still alive but there had been a rift in the family which was reflected in this decision.
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