Dying tree transformed into Celtic sculpture in Derry

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Belmont Tree Sculpture
Image caption,
The finished artwork will feature images of Celtic demigod Bran Mac Feabhail

A legend of Celtic mythology will be keeping watch over houses in Londonderry this summer, thanks to a new tree sculpture.

Due to be chopped down, the Beech tree at the Belmont estate has instead been transformed into a piece of public art.

The dead timber is being shaped by a local sculptor and wood carver, in cooperation with the Housing Executive.

The sculpture will tell the story of Bran Mac Feabhail, a Celtic demigod, who features in Irish mythology.

'Telling Tales'

Speaking to BBC Radio Foyle, sculptor Jim Hughes said: "I've been doing some stuff for the housing executive social investment fund and they gave me funding for tools and we ended up coming up with the idea of doing Bran Mac Feabhal."

He explained: "Bran means crow, Mac means 'son of' and an Feabhal is the (river) Foyle. So I'm doing an image of Bran on the top and then we'll fit in an image of an Feabhal (the Foyle) as well.

"Where did the tribe come from? We're trying to tell that story so we're almost doing it like a family tree on a tree."

Image caption,
Artist Jim Hughes has been working with the local housing executive

The innovative project began when a local resident got in touch with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) about a dying tree.

"We had a call about six weeks ago from a private tenant down here at Belmont who was a bit worried about a tree," NIHE's Stephen Proctor said.

"We looked at the tree, there was severe retrenching in the crown of the tree, we assessed the risk and decided it was necessary to remove the tree.

"But we had been working with Jim before and because of the width of this beech tree, we thought we might look into getting a sculpture on to the stem.

"It escalated from that and it's been a good news story all round," he added.

Image caption,
The carvings will show the family tree of a Celtic tribe

Jim Hughes is part of a two-man team which includes local wood carver Sean Carr.

Mr Carr, who was a commercial diver, began to hone his carving skills after he found a bit of driftwood and decided to turn his pocket knife to it.

"I love woodcarving and I think this is brilliant," he said.

"Instead of taking these trees down, cutting them up for firewood or shredding them, we sculpt them."

The work will be finished in August and it is hoped that the tree, which is already 60 years old, could survive for another half century.