History was made recently when a group of people from Counties Londonderry and Antrim gathered on a road outside Rome, to pay tribute to Frederick Hervey, the celebrated 18th century Earl Bishop of Derry.
In over 200 years Hervey’s death at the spot, on the road to Albano, had been all but ignored.
The group was comprised of members of the Causeway and Foyle branches of the University of the Third Age (U3A). They have already produced an illustrated leaflet setting out places to visit at home, all associated with the Bishop and last month they travelled to Italy to places the great man frequently visited there.
Frederick Hervey, the fourth Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry 1730 to 1803, was one of the most remarkable people ever associated with the North West of Ireland. The Earl Bishop’s influence as a scientist, philanthropist, builder, patron of the arts and proponent of religious tolerance was enormous. He designed the iconic Mussenden Temple and the spectacular mansion that now sits as a ruin on the Downhill cliff top.
Known for his wild eccentricities and mercurial temperament, Hervey was a friend of kings and queens and leading personalities throughout Europe.
Londonderry also had a special appeal for Frederick Hervey. He was instrumental in the construction of its first bridge over the Foyle. He contributed a large sum to the building of a Catholic church; he refurbished the Bishop’s Palace (now a Masonic hall in Bishop Street) and had the first spire built on St Columb’s Cathedral.
It was the U3A group’s work on the Earl Bishop tourist trail at home that inspired their Italian trip. They climbed Vesuvius, where Hervey was injured during an eruption and they wandered through sumptuous royal palaces and famous sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum that he frequently visited.
The U3A group’s arrival at the road to Albano was particularly poignant. Here they gathered at the spot where the Bishop spent his last hours.
First there was a moment of silence and then a single red rose was laid in memory of the Earl Bishop’s love of Londonderry and the northern Irish coast. Writer and broadcaster Ken McCormack described how on July 8, 1803 Hervey had been riding on the road to Albano – Castel Gandolfo is nearby – when he was taken ill.
His clerical attire was so eccentric that a local farmer refused to take him in and with difficulty his manservant managed to get him to a disused stable.
Here Londonderry’s colourful Earl Bishop passed away and was eventually taken back to his family home at Ickworth, Suffolk where he was interred in the crypt.
The road to Albano is still much the same as it was in the Earl Bishop’s day.