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About The
Earl Bishop

Follow in the footsteps of Frederick Hervey

The trail tells the story of how one of Ireland’s most influential dignitaries helped shape the one of the most iconic landscapes in the world.


The Earl Bishop 

Frederick Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol, was an English aristocrat who achieved the almost impossible feat (for an English aristocrat) of being generally adored in Ireland during his lifetime and fondly remembered ever since. At a time when many of his class who ruled or owned property here were at best indifferent towards the Irish themselves, Frederick won hearts and minds through a rare combination of religious tolerance, generosity and a highly-developed sense of humour.

What other Bishop would force his clergymen to run races along the beach, sprinkle flour along his palace corridors at night to reveal who was sleeping with who, or drink a bottle of rum and ‘swear like a gentleman?’ Whatever about our conflicts over politics and religion, above all things we Irish enjoy ‘a character,’ which is why stories about ‘The Earl Bishop’ are still told here two centuries after his death.

Frederick was born near Bury St Edmunds, in the south-east of England, in 1730. Through sheer good luck, in his thirties he was made the Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry, then in his forties, inherited his grandfather`s title and estates (hence, The Earl Bishop). This was like winning the lottery twice; both positions brought huge incomes, which Frederick spent on fine art and even finer mansions, but also on his flock, irrespective of religion. In an age where religious discrimination was enshrined in Ireland`s legal framework, this was a highly unusual approach for an establishment bishop to take. Nowadays we would approve, and call it ecumenism, but during his lifetime, Frederick was pilloried by his peers for championing the cause of equality (no less a figure than King George III himself called Frederick ‘that wicked prelate’).

The Earl Bishop Trail has been set up in memory of this highly-colourful character. At each stop along the way, you can enjoy majestic ruins, amazing views and beautiful landscapes, but you will also hear many more stories about Frederick himself.


Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730 – 1803), known as the ‘The Earl Bishop’, was Bishop of Cloyne (1767 – 1768) and Bishop of Derry (1768 – 1803). In 1779 he became the 4th Earl of Bristol and owner of the family’s ancestral home at Ickworth in Suffolk. As Bishop of Derry he was active, ecumenical and philanthropic; he built splendid residences at Downhill and Ballyscullion, which he adorned with works of art from all over Europe and particularly from Italy. He was so captivated with the Temple of Vesta, at Tivoli near Rome, that he constructed a copy of the temple at the edge of the cliffs at Downhill and dedicated it to his cousin Frideswide Mussenden.

While not neglecting his luxurious tastes he spent large sums of money around Downhill making roads and assisting agriculture. In Derry he constructed a casino (summer house), erected a spire on St Columb’s Cathedral and was the driving force behind the construction of the first bridge over the Foyle.

The Bishop took a lively interest in the local scene. He was fascinated by vulcanology and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his work on interpreting the Giant’s Causeway. He had an intense interest in Irish music and became the patron of Denis O’Hampsey, a blind harper from Magilligan. Denis was a regular visitor to Downhill House to entertain guests and the Bishop visited the harper’s humble cottage in Magilligan.

Although a Bishop in the Church of Ireland he favoured religious equality. He financially supported the construction of not only his own churches but those of his Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian neighbours. He allowed Catholic priests to say Mass in the Mussenden Temple, a provocative decision during the time of the Penal Laws. He prepared the way for a series of Catholic Relief Acts to dismantle the Penal Laws.

The Earl Bishop threw himself ardently into Irish politics. He occupied a prominent position in the Irish Volunteer Movement and attended a Volunteer National Convention in Dublin in 1783, when he proposed legislative independence for the Irish Parliament and stood, unsuccessfully, for election as the President of the Volunteers; his violent language at the Convention led the government to contemplate his arrest. Subsequently he took less interest in politics and spent his later years mainly in Germany, France and Italy. He died at Albano in Italy and his remains were interred at Ickworth Estate, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, where an obelisk was erected to his memory by the inhabitants of Derry.


The Hervey Heritage Society

The Hervey Heritage Society is an entirely voluntary, not-for-profit collection of individuals who admire and celebrate one of Northern Ireland`s most amusing historic figures – Frederick Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol. However, through the medium of Frederick`s persona, we also entertain the serious and contemporary aim of encouraging visitors to explore a very beautiful part of the world.

It was Frederick who first put The Giant`s Causeway on the map; back in his day, it was hidden at the edge of a barely-known and rarely-visited wilderness. Today, over three-quarters of a million people from all over the world visit the Causeway every year. Unfortunately (for them), the vast majority jump off their tour bus, snap a few ‘selfies’ beside the funny-shaped rocks, then jump back on the bus for another hundred-mile jaunt, completely oblivious to the amazing scenery and majestic ruins that lie close by.

So The Earl Bishop Trail is our invitation to you, the visitor, not just to step off the bus, but also to step off the beaten track and take a bit more time. Time to enjoy the many treasures waiting to be discovered along Northern Ireland`s north-west coast. Time to relax and soak up a real sense of place. Time to step back in time itself, because from the pre-historic Causeway, through to medieval castles, Georgian follies and mansions, jewel-like churches and breathtaking viewpoints, the Earl Bishop Trail will carry you across many millennia, but all your stopping-points have one thing in common: The Earl Bishop himself.

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