As a native of the north coast of Ireland, I have had the pleasure of seeing Mussenden Temple almost every day throughout my childhood, perched perilously atop the cliffs at Downhill. I've heard a number of people refer to it as an 'oddity', but I disagree, and if you pay a visit yourself, you'll understand why. The instigator of the project - Frederick Augustus Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol, Bishop of Derry - had Mussenden Temple built as a library. Of course, many wealthy people had libraries within their homes, though I would wager that not many had them located at the bottom of their garden. I would also wager that there aren't many places - let alone libraries - that afford such spectacular views. If the purpose was to provide a secluded spot in which to read, learn and ponder whatever Earls and Bishops ponder, then where better to build it than on that very spot?
The books and the shelves upon which they sat are gone, and all that remains is the bare masonry and brick work which gives the places an eerie echo when you speak. But, it's not difficult to imagine what it would've been like all those years ago. Today, the Temple is open to the public, but is occasionally booked for wedding ceremonies, and has also hosted a number of music recitals too. These are often private functions, but it's worth enquiring at the Tourist Information bureau if such an event is occurring during your visit.
What strikes everyone who visits Mussenden Temple, are the views from both inside and the surrounding area: to the east, the strands of the North Coast, the mount of the river Bann, and all the way round to Portrush and to the west, a magnificent vista of beaches, mountains and sky. It is particularly spectacular at sunrise and sunset.
If you'd like to make your visit extra special, drive or take the train to Castlerock, and go all the way to the west of the village until you come to a pathway that is signposted for 'Black Glen': if you are relatively mobile, and you don't mind climbing a substantial number of steps (it'll do you good!), then you can enjoy a beautiful and spectacular 'alternative' route to Mussenden Temple. There is a hollow between two hills, along the bottom of which runs the train tracks, and the Temple sits upon the hill on the left as you look towards the sea - this in itself is well worth a visit, if you fancy a secluded spot for some peace and quiet.
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