Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

The Earl Bishop

Thu 23 June 2011, 6:46pm

Interesting BBC article on an upcoming presentation and talk [Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, 17 August] by lecturer and broadcaster Stephen Price on the subject of his new book – The Earl Bishop.

The 18th Century “Earl Bishop” was Frederick Augustus Hervey, fourth Earl of Bristol and Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry.  Hervey was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his work on interpreting the Giants’ Causeway.  And it was near there that he built the Downhill estate, and the Mussenden Temple.

From the BBC article

It was in Rome that Hervey fell in love with a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Vesta.

“Hervey wanted to buy the temple and bring it back to Ireland and re-erect it,” Stephen explained.

“But the Pope refused his offer. So he gets his architect to sketch the temple and he builds his own copy at the edge of the cliff at Downhill.”

The building was dedicated to the Earl Bishop’s cousin Frideswide Mussenden – hence Mussenden Temple.

Once built, it was used by Hervey as a cliff-top library and was ornately decorated inside.

Underneath the building, Hervey built a room for Catholic priests to say Mass, a provocative decision during the time of the anti-Catholic penal laws.

Although a bishop in the Church of Ireland, Hervey was a powerful proponent of religious equality and dedicated himself to improving the lot of Catholics and Presbyterians in 18th Century Ireland.

He financially supported, not only his own church, but those of his Catholic and Presbyterian neighbours.

“He saw that Ireland would never be a peaceful place until religious discrimination was effectively ended,” Stephen said.

“There are things that he said in the 1780s and you read them now and you think ‘my god, there’s the next 200 years of Irish history’.”

However, Stephen thinks the Sisyphean task the Earl Bishop had set for himself eventually ground him down.

“I think that as he went on he became disenchanted with Ireland.

“He saw Ireland was never going to be at peace, he saw that people were going to keep fighting here and he was right. So he ended up spending the last ten years of his life in Italy.”

Wikipedia has a slightly different take on those final years

He favoured complete religious equality, and was opposed to the system of tithes. In December 1779 he succeeded his second brother, the 3rd Earl, as Earl of Bristol, and in spite of his brother’s will succeeded to a considerable property. Having again passed some time in Italy, he returned to Ireland and in 1782 threw himself ardently into the Irish volunteer movement, quickly attaining a prominent position among the volunteers, and in great state attending the convention held in Dublin in November 1783.

Carried away by his position and his popularity he talked loudly of rebellion, and his violent language led the government to contemplate his arrest. Subsequently he took no part in politics, spending his later years mainly on the continent of Europe. In 1798 he was imprisoned by the French at Milan as a suspected spy, remaining in custody for eighteen months. He died outdoors at Albano, denied refuge, and was buried in Ickworth Church.

None of which prevented his portrait being stolen and ending up atop an internment bonfire in Londonderry in 2009.

Update  A fellow blogger informs me that National Trust archaeologist Malachy Conway is leading an excavation project working at Downhill Demesne. 

It’s the third season of work within domestic yards at the northern end of the former mansion house built by the Earl Bishop, Frederick Augustus Hervey.

So far they have excavated remains of outbuildings including laundry, poultry and cow houses, dairy, stables, carpenters shop and a domestic gas works.

The excavation work started this year on 1st June and continues to 10th July, Wednesdays to Sundays, and is being undertaken within areas of the property that are open to public access.

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Comments (13)

  1. Nevin (profile) says:

    The Hervey/Bruce papers are available in PRONI – reference: D1514

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  2. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Nevin

    If there was ever a clearer example of your tree-pointing…

    For the benefit of everyone else, here’s the PRONI introduction to the Hervey/Bruce papers [pdf file].

    Summary

    The Hervey/Bruce papers in PRONI comprise c.1,250 original and copied documents (mainly the former), c.1750-c.1950, relating mainly to Frederick Augustus Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol (and Bishop of Derry from 1768 to his death in 1803), and to his cousins and successors in his Co. Londonderry estate, the Bruce family, baronets of Downhill, Castlerock, Co. Londonderry.

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  3. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Update A fellow blogger informs me that National Trust archaeologist Malachy Conway is leading an excavation project working at Downhill Demesne.

    It’s the third season of work within domestic yards at the northern end of the former mansion house built by the Earl Bishop, Frederick Augustus Hervey.

    So far they have excavated remains of outbuildings including laundry, poultry and cow houses, dairy, stables, carpenters shop and a domestic gas works.

    The excavation work started this year on 1st June and continues to 10th July, Wednesdays to Sundays, and is being undertaken within areas of the property that are open to public access.

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  4. I did see something about being able to meet the archaeologists and find out more

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  5. Mark McGregor (profile) says:

    Might be a little late to apply but they as in previous years are accepting volunteer help on the dig. Email Malachy linked by Pete above.

    I joined in at Castle Ward a few years ago and it was fantastic.

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  6. lamhdearg (profile) says:

    There was a piece on him (i think it was him as i could not hear it properly) on william crawleys show, on sunday morning, i do not know if it is available to download or whatever you do, i was meaning to look him up on wiki, seems like an interesting chap.

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  7. Nevin (profile) says:

    “If there was ever a clearer example of your tree-pointing…”

    Thanks, Pete. I thought it would be a useful addition to your collection.

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  8. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    “I thought it would be a useful addition to your collection.”

    *shakes head*

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  9. Nevin (profile) says:

    “There are things that he said in the 1780s”

    Here’s a nice quote from the Bishop a little earlier in 1778:

    “I shall remain in Ireland whose cordial hospitality I prefer infinitely to all the insipid pomp & factious, unprinciple discontent of England: I have therefore sent a letter of Attorney to my wife to transact business in England & leave me to the enjoyment of Philosophick ease & retirement in Ireland …

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  10. kinnegoe (profile) says:

    He built St. Finian’s Church in Greencastle Co. Donegal in 1738 I believe. It has a fantastic view across the Foyle to Magilligan, all the way down Benone strand as far as Rathlin on a clear day. This was no mistake, he wanted to be able to see his house and the temple when he was in Donegal and Vice- versa when he was at Downhill. It is still is going strong I believe. As a Catholic growing up in the (predominately Catholic) area as a kid, I remember helping to ring the bells there at midnight on new years eve with local COI parishioners, It just was the thing to do and was great craic. That would have been in the late 80′s early 90′s I suppose. it’s sad to think that just 0.5 miles away over the water the bad old days were in full swing to the sound of altogether less harmonious bells, although to be honest it could have been 100 miles away.

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  11. Skinner (profile) says:

    My wedding reception was held in the house he built in Suffolk –
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ickworth_House

    You can see the obvious similarity with Mussendun

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  12. stephen price (profile) says:

    Malachy Conway`s Downhill dig is going strong, I was up there all day today and we`re finding some brilliant stuff. Anyone who wants to join in should email

    [email protected].

    Re. the main article and Wikipedia having a slightly different take on those final years – I was referring to post 1791, when Frederick left Ireland, never to return. He still wrote fondly of Downhill & kept a very close interest in his affairs here via his cousin once removed Harry Bruce (who inherited Downhill). However, he left his other mansion here, Ballyscullion, only half-finished, and began planning his great house at Ickworth in Suffolk, which suggests that he intended to ‘retire’ to his East Anglia estate. In the event, he went off travelling to the continent and died there in 1803.

    His arrest in 1798 was for spying on the French revolutionary armies, he`d become quite the counter-revolutionary by that time, notwithstanding his agitation in Ireland for religious tolerance in the 1780s. But my favourite quote from Frederick about Ireland is from that Volunteer period:

    “Quench but this firebrand of religious discordancy… and ye wil son see the pure lambent flame of liberty cherish and enlighten Ireland. But until ye can forgive and reciprocally tolerate each other ye must expect to find yourselves ultimately tools and victims.”

    Prescient, or what?

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  13. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Stephen

    Thanks for the clarification. And the additional detail.

    The possibility of arrest reference made me think he may have been given an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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