Belfast Telegraph

Benburb Priory museum to celebrate thousand years of archives

By Alf McCreary

A new £1.4m library and museum at Benburb Priory will be opened next week by Ireland's two Archbishops of Armagh.

The facility will celebrate over 1,000 years of history and will house several unique historical collections of national and international importance, including Servite, Marian and O'Neill collections and archives.

It will be opened by the leader of Ireland's Catholics, the Most Revd Eamon Martin, and the Church of Ireland primate, the Most Reverend Richard Clarke on Thursday, October 26.

The money to fund the development was raised over an eight-year period, and the new centre in east Tyrone is based in the refurbished stables at the centre of the priory estate.

Its exhibits also include a collection of Irish literature, and a wide range of religious books. The archives date back over 150 years, and include the complete records of the Servites, one of the five original Catholic mendicant orders, in Britain and Ireland.

Fr Colm McGlynn, the Prior of Benburb, said: "The development of the library and museum is a further extension of the community outreach which has been central to the priory since its establishment here in 1949, and it will enhance and broaden the experience and knowledge of visitors to the priory, which is open to all.

"The Servite Community is very grateful for the funds which made this important project possible and for the dedication and hard work of the Project Team."

Professor Gerry McKenna, chair of the Management Board, said: "This represents a major development not just for the priory, Benburb village and the wider community but also for the local, national and international community of individuals, researchers and groups - including schools - who are interested in the heritage represented within its collections."

He added: "The establishment of the Stables Coffee Shop will also be a focal point for greater social interchange within the village and between visitors from near and far."

The priory, which is owned by the Servites, is a cross-community centre, and the new library and museum has been developed with this ethos.

The priory estate is of considerable historic interest. It was originally a Plantation estate, which was later bought by the distiller James Bruce in the late 19th century. Bruce built the manor house and stables and also remodelled Benburb village.

After a period of relative disuse, the estate was used in the Second World War as a field hospital for British, Belgian and US troops. It was bought by the Servites in 1947, and a priory and seminary was opened in 1949.

The priory has evolved over the years in functional terms, and since the 1980s it has been a major community centre and meeting place for over 30 community groups. It has over 20,000 visitors annually.

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