bishop hervey

benevolence on benevenagh’: the bishop hervey international summer school

Kendra Reynolds reflects on this year’s first Bishop Hervey Summer School which was staged from 29-31 August 2013. 

There are men, women, and then there are Herveys

In contrast to the eighteenth-century obsession with neat labelling, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu highlighted how the prominent family under discussion defied any easy categorizations, instead needing a label all their own: “there are men, women, and then there are Hervey’s”. For three days, an international array of guests attended the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre for a summer school directed by Dr Willa Murphy and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Institute at the University of Ulster.

The event was based on the colourful figure of Bishop Hervey (a controversial and eccentric character from the eighteenth-century who surprisingly has all but faded into obscurity). As the school’s Facebook page states: “They came from far and wide, as well as near and narrow – Chicago and Cork, Dublin and Donegal, Philadelphia and Portstewart, Ickworth and Articlave – to discuss and debate the Earl-Bishop and his world”.

The Bishop Hervey Summer School

The Bishop Hervey Summer School

Volunteering, but feeling a little like an outsider in such surroundings, my first attendance at such an event initially made me uneasy, and yet the most powerful and impressive aspect of this gathering was also the key to my integration into such welcoming company. In the spirit of the celebrated man himself (who was an advocate of tolerance and religious equality), by cutting across social barriers between academics and non-academics; local people and those from international regions; men, women and children (with the Bishop’s complex sexuality given much discussion and an enjoyable children’s art session entitled ‘Building Downhill’ taken by McCall Gilfillan leaving the younger participants with glowing pride in their creations); and, most significantly, people of varying religious beliefs, the school brought all attendants together in a mutual fondness for discussing local history and heritage.

Indeed, Montagu’s words rang true in my ears on the closing night when the participants gathered together around a fireside in the homely Downhill Hostel for Irish song provided by some participating children: there are categories often imposed in our culture such as ‘men and women’, but at that event, with its studies of Hervey’s Epicurean theology, including food, music, entertainment, and enjoyment, everyone came together in harmony, no longer divided into alienating categories – indeed, there was only one that mattered, for those three days we were all Herveys.

Bringing it all back home

The title of Robert Moore’s paper presented on day one is extremely fitting in that the summer school certainly could be credited with ‘Bringing it [local history and heritage] all back home’. During the year of the City of Culture, many have enjoyed and taken pride in their local heritage. Picking up one of the participants from the airport on the opening night, I was surprised at how an outsider can make one look at things in our locality with new eyes – things I’d normally take for granted – and I was almost embarrassed with how little I knew of my own locale. Having taken the trip to Downhill via the Bishop’s Road, the international visitors arrived on the Saturday afternoon at the Lion’s Gate with eyes wide with awe at the beauty of the natural landscape. Yet, the same look filled the faces of those who had ‘saw it all before’, but who were now only really ‘seeing’ properly the scenes before them in all their glory.

Based for a large part in the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre (Limavady’s new cultural focal point) the school was provided with an extremely modern and creative environment for the eclectic mix of people gathering together for the equally diverse range of activities.

The programme ranged from academic to popular talks, the children’s art workshop, a film screening of Redeeming History introduced by the director himself, Desmond Bell, and social events including the opening wine reception with canapés freshly brought in from the ovens of Crusoe’s in Castlerock, where I was informed that each consisted of purely local ingredients – even Broighter Gold Oil – in order to allow the international guests to get the literal ‘flavor’ of the area! (How fitting that this heritage event has preceded the ‘bringing back home’ of the Broighter Gold to the Arts and Cultural Centre later this autumn). These canapés also instigated an episode which triggered my sense of belonging in the gathering: helping to set up the reception whilst the talks continued, one individual lent me a helping hand. This person asked me what canapés were and I couldn’t help smiling when I answered ‘I was actually hoping you could tell me’! Again this small but significant moment made me delight in the breakdown of barriers between various groups of people that the school so effortlessly succeeded in carrying out.

Thus the diversity of the Bishop’s character was modeled in both the programme and the participants, and, as one of the impressed speakers Dr James Ward states, ‘The Bishop Hervey summer school provided a great mixture of enlightenment and entertainment. The varied programme of talks, walks and culture provided superb insight into the life, times, and loves of an intriguing man whose achievements should be celebrated far and wide’. Hence, Limavady welcomed her guests with pride and by the end of the week was affectionately referred to as ‘LimaVegas’.

Benevolence on Benevenagh

Privileged guests gathered on the Friday night to hear one of the much anticipated keynote talks by the world renowned literary theorist Terry Eagleton, whose paper beautifully encompassed the atmosphere of the event and, as the one phrase which caught in my mind as a summation of my Bishop Hervey experience, its title has been borrowed for this review: ‘Benevolence on Benevenagh’. This ‘benevolence’ was produced not just as an abstract theory on paper but as the guiding principle of this event which was hosted with the utmost hospitality.

Jane Phillimore, a participant who travelled from Ickworth for the occasion, remarked, “It was all brilliantly easy – just a quick hop from Derry airport to the summer school in Limavady’s great new Arts Centre. The talks were wide-ranging and engaging. I learnt delicious and obscure facts about the Earl Bishop and the 18th century, plus of course Irish culture and history. Everyone was warm and welcoming and it was well organised for maximum fun in a short space of time. The best bit for me as a first timer in Northern Ireland was probably seeing the sad, stunning ruins of Downhill and spending an evening in the Mussenden Temple”.

This evening that Jane refers to was one of my own personal highlights: having received a talk entitled ‘The Downhill Dig’ earlier in the day by Malachy Conway, the ruins we wandered through in daylight embodied a haunting beauty in the darkness that stole the breath of every participant on their journey back up to the Mussenden Temple that night. ‘Digging’ through the ruins with Malachy in our minds earlier in the day, it was extremely exciting to see the pictures produced in our mind’s eye take on physical dimensions in form of Stephen Price’s presentation ‘Recreating Downhill’, in which 3D imaging technology and years worth of research literally reproduced pictures almost exactly as the architecture would have been during the Bishop’s lifetime.

Stephen Price at Mussenden Temple

Stephen Price at Mussenden Temple

Trudging through the ruins earlier in the day provided us with the skeleton of the site, whilst the virtual tour fleshed out our vision as it travelled through the fully restored rooms in Stephen’s presentation, literally resuscitating the old ruins and breathing life back into the bishop himself (reminding me of the aptly named title of a paper earlier in the day, ‘Building Bishops’).

Yet, the climax of the event came to a head with the screening of Desmond Bell’s ‘Redeeming History’, a documentary film which followed a group of protestant young people in Derry during the troubles. The darkness of the temple during the screening and the absolute silence was as chilling as the confusion on the faces of the young people depicted and yet their studies of Bishop Hervey provided them with a figure whose tolerance and advocacy for religious equality reassured some of them of their ability to remain neutral to both sections of society.

Despite the chilly night air in the temple, I felt strangely warmed by the signs of progress in that all kinds of people could sit together in contemplation of these historical events and discuss them civilly and without bitterness. Hence, during the walk back to Downhill Hostel through the ruins in the darkness, the film still fresh in my mind, I had time to reflect on the highlights of the previous three days, and one phrase came back to my mind: ‘Benevolence on Benevenagh’. Dr Willa Murphy’s words summed it up in an email to me after the event when she said, ‘The Bishop would be proud!

The Summer School hopes to be welcoming a bigger crowd next year and to hold more community events alongside various talks. I would encourage everyone reading this to come and be Herveys for a few days as I myself can only echo the words of one of the international participants when she stated: “I’ll be back!”.

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This entry was posted on September 14th, 2013 at 9:25 am by Desima

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