Explore Downhill Demesne

Downhill house ruins
Do you know what a demesne is? National Trust Images / Robert Morris

The word 'demesne' is used throughout Ireland. It indicates the part of the estate that was usually enclosed by a demesne wall and was for the use of the landowner only. His estate would have been much larger, including all the tenanted lands and may have been made up of parcels of land geographically isolated from each other.

The demesne was situated around the house and normally included the home farm, woods, grazing and arable land, landscape park, deer park, walled garden and formal garden features.

Who built Downhill?

Downhill began to assume its present form around 1772 when Frederick Hervey (1730-1803) - known as the Earl Bishop from his twin titles of Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry - chose this spot to build a country house.
The family history of the Earl-Bishop Frederick Hervey, is as colourful as he was himself - full of gossip and scandal. If it wasn't for him, the Herveys would only be known for their connection with Ickworth and Downhill Demesne wouldn't exist.

The Bishop's Gate

The Bishop's Gate has a lovely Gothic gate lodge, and is the closest entrance to the gardens and the Black Glen. Have a look at the symbolic carvings, including a bishop's mitre and several cow skulls.

Mussenden Temple

Based on the Temple of Vesta in Italy, Mussenden Temple once held the Earl Bishop's library. It's perched right on the cliff edge, and the inscription reads 'Tis pleasant, safely to behold, from shore, the rolling ship and hear the tempest roar'.

The Black Glen

This is a small arboretum that's home to many different trees, and makes a lovely place to walk away from the winds on the cliff-top. See whether you can spot the fish pond, and the statue of the Earl Bishop's brother - especially his head, no-one has ever found that.

Lion's gate

Topped by stone snow leopards or ounces - they've recently been restored and now roar in their former glory. This is one of two entrances to the property.

Lady Erne's Seat

Is this a mill of some sort, or perhaps the summer-house of the bishop's daughter Mary? Either way, it's a lovely quiet spot from which to see the sea, a fitting reward for the climb up from the Black Glen.

The Bog Garden

This garden by the Bishop's Gate houses a great variety of flowers, including some stunning irises. The garden was first created by Lady Bruce in 1910.

The mausoleum

Really a cenotaph - an empty tomb built as a memorial for the Earl Bishop's brother, George Hervey. See if you can find the statue of George that was blown off the roof in the Big Wind and now lies in the grounds.

Dovecote and Icehouse

The round building has a dovecote above, which supplied meat for the Earl Bishop's table, and an ice house below, for keeping food fresh. The ice was cut at a nearby pond in the winter.

Downhill House

This is one of only a few buildings of its kind surviving today, and the construction is similar to Mussenden Temple. Though it's now in ruins, the striking 18th-century mansion of the eccentric Earl Bishop is still worth a look - you might even get a chance to watch our archaeologists at work.

The Walled Garden

Once provided fruit, vegetables, and even flowers for the main house. Now it houses sheep and apple trees, and provides access to the dovecote. The sheltered lawns are perfect for a picnic.