In praise of eccentricity
It would seem that we need our eccentrics.
One of the most popular sites on the North Coast is a monument to eccentricity. Mussenden Temple. It was built by the famous Earl-Bishop, Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry - an agnostic (handy for a Bishop!) art lover, cultured, licentious, hard working, philanthropic and according to Donald Akenson, "the most worldly, most eccentric, most talked-about priest in the Church of Ireland".
The Earl-Bishop put the Giant's Causeway on the map scientifically (he was a vulcanologist) and as a tourist destination, becoming a fellow of the Royal Society because of his work there. He built roads, invested in agriculture and worked in the cause of religious freedom. He also found a clever way of making church land his own and there built a summer residence on it, sadly now in ruins, adding to it year on year, filling it with art treasures from all over Europe.
And he built Mussenden.
According to Stephen Rice in his book The Earl Bishop, through his many stays in Rome Frederick Augustus fell in love with the temple of Vesta, virgin goddess of the hearth. He wanted to buy the temple and bring it back to Ireland but the pope refused his offer. So he had his own architect sketch the temple and then built his own version on the edge of the cliff at Downhill, which he used as his personal library. To the magnificent view from its windows he added his own considerable decoration - once again sadly lost.
He eventually abandoned Ireland, perhaps worn down by the task he had set himself of seeking to ensure religious tolerance and liberty and lived out his final ten years in Italy. He left us one of the finest sights in the country.
On a clear day the view across the coast from the steeply inclined Bishop's Road is breathtaking as the opening image reveals. Mussenden can also be viewed from the strand beneath and is an imposing sight in the setting sun.
From the National Trust car park it is a short walk to the ruins of the great house...
...and to the prize: the temple itself.
On the evening in question I had literally to race, camera swinging, sweat pouring, to catch the sun before it settled behind Donegal. (I also had to negotiate a group of slightly intoxicated young people offering to pose.)
I suspect there is a little of the eccentric in us all.
Keywords: Northern Ireland Landscape, Mussenden
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