Benburb priory gives up its medieval secrets

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A cigarette case that saved the life of a soldier priest in World War One is one of the secrets of a five hundred year old archive about to go on display at a new library in Benburb.

Fr Aloysius Bouchier, from County Waterford, was carrying the case when he ventured into No Man’s Land to retrieve the wounded.

He was shot but the silver cigarette case in his breast pocket took the force of the round and saved his life. He was later awarded the Military Cross for bravery.

Bouchier was a member of the Servite Order, who have used a lottery windfall of almost £750,000 to help preserve the extraordinary collection of historic documents and forgotten rare books which had been gathering dust in the cellars of Benburb priory.

The library of 20,000 books, archives and artefacts, collected over centuries, has been conserved and opened to the public in an interactive library, museum and coffee shop in the Victorian Stables at the priory, which has been restored to house the new facilities.

The collection had been unearthed by former head of the priory, Father Chris O’Brien, who wanted to preserve the collection for future generations.

A number of the rare books were once housed in Italian abbeys but were moved when a wave of anti-clericalism swept through the country after reunification in the latter half of the 19th Century.

They include a secret archive of the medieval history of the order, as well as some of the earliest and most lavishly illustrated books of medieval Christianity and an extensive collection of books on Irish history.