A £1 million digital sculpture trail will open to the public in Royal Hillsborough today – showcasing 10 large-scale pieces created by celebrated artists from across the world. (Wed 25 October).

It is the first augmented reality (AR) digital trail of its type on the Island of Ireland and its launch coincides with ‘International Artist Day’. 

More than 40 primary-aged children will join Lisburn man and CBeebies presenter, Gyasi Sheppy for a theatrical introduction to a fun-filled tour of the sculptures. Their experience will be enhanced by a digital app, accessible via smartphones.

The digital sculpture trail, which is almost two kilometres long, has been developed by Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council (LCCC) and jointly funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

New York-based and award-winning digital artist, Marjan Moghaddam travelled to Northern Ireland to be part of the launch day. She created two of the augmented reality sculptures, called The Poet and Magic Garden. She said: “Art is ever-evolving and adapting as we artists and animators take inspiration from societal changes. I hope that the trail entertains, educates, amuses, challenges and stimulates visitors in the months and years ahead, for that is what art should do.”

Northern Ireland-based artist Ngaire Jackson also attended the official launch along with key figures from tourism, business and education – as well as pupils from schools in the surrounding area.  

CBeebies presenter, Gyasi Sheppy said: “This is a wonderful family attraction with world-class pieces of art that offer education, entertainment and a fun day out – whatever age you are!”

Andrew Kennedy, Tourism Manager, Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, said: “Working with international and local artists, we have used 360-degree virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as an art form here in Hillsborough Forest - helping to create a first-class visitor experience.

“The mobile app takes visitors on a journey through the forest, digitally unlocking each sculpture as they approach. That allows them to discover more about each piece of art and its artist - and a special ‘enhance me’ feature transports visitors into another world. Once the trail is completed, the app unlocks special discounts from cafes and restaurants in the village. It also contains a number of other features for children including animojis and a special ‘quiz me’ feature - and is available in multiple languages to appeal to the international tourist market.”

David Reid, Deputy Secretary of DAERA, said: “Through the Rural Tourism Scheme, the Department invests in natural and built heritage and it is clear the creation of interactive visitor experiences, showcasing our natural landscape, that are compelling and accessible to all, can offer long term sustainability and growth to tourism in Northern Ireland.” 

He added: “Tourism is vitally important to our rural economy and the ongoing enhancement works at Hillsborough Forest will help deliver valuable tourist and outdoor recreation products to boost the prosperity of the local village and its inhabitants.”

Councillor John Laverty BEM, Chair of the Council’s Regeneration and Growth Committee said: “The project is an initiative of the Regeneration and Growth Committee and is a key asset as part of Royal Hillsborough tourism masterplan. The art trail complements the Belfast Region City Deal, which supports the development of the village as a key visitor destination.”

For more information on the trail click here