New 'Gem of the Roe' sculpture planned for Dungiven

Dungiven library
Image caption The new £1.27m library in Dungiven

It is a legend that spans 700 years and has been immortalised in song.

Now the romantic, yet tragic, legacy of Finvola, the Gem of the Roe, will be celebrated with a sculpture in Dungiven.

World renowned artist Maurice Harron has been commissioned to design the piece, which will be unveiled outside the town's new library on 30 January.

Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said the landmark would be a talking point for locals and visitors.

"The Finvola Gem of the Roe depicts the rich culture and heritage of the district and its links with Scotland," she said.

"And in this City of Culture year for Derry, it is encouraging to see how Dungiven is playing its part to ensure a successful and memorable year of celebration."

The project was initiated by the Dungiven Public Art Steering Group, chaired by Limavady councillor Anne Brolly.

It was backed by the council and the National Lottery through the Northern Ireland Arts Council.

"When work began on the construction of our new library, I had the idea from the beginning that a piece of public art at the entrance would focus attention on, and enhance, the new building and the town," said Mrs Brolly.

"With that in mind, I asked the architects to provide a source of lighting for a proposed sculpture.

"We set up a committee under the title Dungiven Library Public Art Project, a group of local people who offered their time, expertise, travel and inconvenience willingly."


Local legend says Finvola, the young and beautiful daughter of Dermot, the chieftain of the O'Cahans, fell in love with Angus McDonnell of the McDonnell Clan from the western isles of Scotland.

Dermot consented to the marriage on the condition that on his daughter's death, she would be brought back to Dungiven for burial.

Tragically, Finvola died young and Angus could not bear to part with her.

On Benbradagh mountain, Finvola's two brothers heard a piercing wail and recognising the call of the banshee, Grainne Rua, knew that a member of their clan had died.

The brothers set sail for Islay, where they recovered Finvola's body and brought her home to Dungiven, setting the banshee's cry to rest.

Chief executive of Libraries NI Irene Knox said: "It has been so encouraging for our staff to work with Limavady Borough Council and the Dungiven Public Art Steering Group on this project.

"I hope that this will encourage people to visit and use the great facilities in Dungiven library.

Artist Maurice Harron, whose list of works includes the iconic Hands Across the Divide sculpture in Carlisle Square, Derry, said a decision had been taken to link the sculpture to the district of Dungiven.

"Finvola, a princess of the O'Cahan clan, is famous for her great beauty, " he said.

"She united western Scotland and north-eastern Ireland through her marriage to Angus MacDonnell, Lord of the Isles.

"In the larger than life size sculpture, she will be seen dancing, whirling in a dynamic movement and is in the act of playing the harp.

"The design is informed by history and musical heritage.

"It is also a reference to the bardic harp school commemorated in the Harper's Walk path, close to the Priory."

Mr Harron worked with six local schools and community groups to create a ceramic wall panel, which is now on display inside Dungiven library.

The collection extends across the main internal wall in the form of the flowing River Roe.

"We held a series of active workshops and the children each made a ceramic tile, inspired by their locality and heritage," said Mr Harron.

The ceramic panel project started in May, 2012 and was installed in July, 2012.