The theme of this year’s Halloween Festival is ‘Rise of the River Gods’ and from this evening the Derry Walls will be illuminated with the ‘Awakening the Walls’ lighting event. In support of Derry and Strabane Council’s Halloween Festival, the Friends of the Derry Walls will be giving an illustrated talk and walk about the Architecture and Mythology of Bishop’s Gate with its River God Sculpted Heads. The talk and walk will start at 7.30pm in Number 1 St Columb’s Court, one of Derry’s earliest Georgian buildings within the City Walls, and currently undergoing a careful conservation programme. The introductory talk will be followed by a conducted tour by Mark Lusby of the upper section of City Walls from Double Bastion to New Gate, discussing history, architecture, archaeology and folklore along the way. The Walls will be a special place for such a tour this evening, given its animation with artistic light installations as part of the Awakening the Walls. The event will last about an hour in total, leaving plenty of time to take in the rest of the events on and around the Derry Walls this evening. There is no charge for the talk and tour. Please note that climbing of steps will be involved in exploring this part of the Walls.
The beautiful sculpted river god heads atop Bishop’s Gate have borne witness to events in our city, celebratory and tragic , ever since the Earl Bishop’s triumphal arch was erected in 1789. They were carved by one of Ireland’s greatest sculptors, Edward Smyth. They closely match two of the sculpted heads around James Gandon’s Dublin Custom House. In the early 1780s a virtually unknown sculptor, Edward Smyth had been commissioned by Gandon to design fourteen river heads based on traditional classical motifs and incorporating in their crowns the principal features of the countries through which the rivers flowed. The work on the Dublin Custom House was completed in 1786. So when Edward Smyth was approached a few years later, by Irish architect Henry Aaron Baker, to add sculpted elements to the triumphal arch planned for the Derry Walls, it was natural that Edward would revisit the designs he had made for the Dublin Custom House, to illustrate the River Gods of the Foyle and Boyne.
In 1991 Michael Scott an Irish Folklorist produced a book inspired by Smyth’s sculpted heads, creating magnificent tales telling the stories of the gods, men and creatures that lived on and upon these rivers. As part of the introductory talk this evening, Anne McCartney will read from Michael Scott’s legend of the Foyle River God.