Benburb Valley Park
Benburb itself is a small village with a long history. Its seclusion combined with the small population blends to create a relaxing yet fascinating atmosphere and is the perfect environment for visitors of all ages. The beautiful old Manor house now known as The Servite Priory Benburb was built by the Bruce family in the 1880’s and has had several owners before becoming a priory. Used in its long history as a private residence for the Bruce family, an English and American Army hospital during the Second World War, and since 1947 a priory and conference centre run by the Servite Order. The Priory is open as a Pastoral, Retreat and Conference Centre with bedrooms, conference and meeting rooms and sits at the gateway to Benburb Valley Park, Benburb Castle and Bawn.
The Priory and Centre attracts groups from every walk of life who come to meet and discuss the many complex issues which affect their lives. It is also used as a recreational facility for groups wishing to expand their skills in cultural activities or for those wishing to participate in courses in spiritual and human development. Some of the groups who come are inter-denominational and they spend their time here living, working, praying and recreating together. For many the Priory and Centre provides them with that freedom of association so often denied them in their home or local environment. They soon learn that it is okay to enjoy the company of people who come from different backgrounds and leave having made new friends. Set in the grounds of Benburb Valley Park is Benburb Castle, believed to have had at least five lives. The first being a stronghold of Shane O’Neill recorded on a map of the Blackwater River in 1602. It’s thought Sir Richard Wingfield’s bawn of 1615 may contain some of the O’Neill walling.
Much of Wingfield bawn has survived; it stands on solid rock, defended on a high cliff above a bend in the Blackwater River. To the North and East the wall is pierced by small musket loops. Of the original flanker towers, the North West one has survived the best. A third staircase tower to the South is a late addition. Inside, the flankers were three storeys high. The ground floor, divided into two rooms was for defence and storage. It has musket loops for ‘flanking fire’ along the walls. The large first floor room has very large windows to the North and West. The one to the West was safe from attack because of its cliff-top position. The North one would have been a definite risk. Was it a 19th century addition perhaps? All that had survived of its stonework was the outer frame. In the 19th century a new sash window was inserted inside it, and in the 1940’s it was blocked up so it appears to have been original. Historic Monuments’ craftsmen have restored the missing stonework, but you still have to imagine the diamond paned glass in leaded lights. Both windows were above head height, presumably to avoid musket fire.
In the 19th century, when the Bruce’s lived at Benburb, a cottage was built inside the bawn, and the flankers were refitted with new woodwork. One can imagine the flankers being used as rooms to supplement the cottage rather than as two independent houses.
In the 1940’s American troops used the Manor house as a hospital and the towers of the bawn were altered to allow watchmen on the roofs. The vulnerable North facing windows were blocked up, but other internal features were left untouched.
When Historic Monuments Branch came to Benburb in 1982 at the invitation of the Servite Friars at Benburb, it found the roofs had kept both flanker buildings dry. However all woodwork was in trouble and that new floors and stairs were needed. It was decided to refit largely to 17th century standards but to put in a platform to allow access to the view from the window. The Castle is open to the public.
To find out more about the Battle of Benburb Click Here