by Gillian McDade
RARE and valuable books will undergo restoration, if a religious library is successful in securing Lottery funding totalling £773,000
The Servite Priory library in Benburb is home to around 20,000 manuscripts, books and other archive materials, some dating back to the mid 16th century.
Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has given its initial support to the funding bid, which if successful would help prevent further deterioration of the books.
This package would enable development funding of £83,000 to ‘protect and open up the rare collection’.
A number of valuable collections are housed at the library including extensive archival material relating to the Servites over the past 150 years, including personal records of 300 friars. Irish literature and general religious collections are also located at the centre, which is situated seven miles between Armagh and Dungannon. A version of the King James Bible is among the collection in the priory
The books were initially based in Florence, Vicenza or Innsbruck, and when the Servite Friars arrived in London in 1864 several volumes were brought there for safe-keeping during the time of Italian reunification. Then, in the year 2000 many of the books were brought to East Tyrone when the Irish and English friars merged. Others were donated in the late 1940s from founding American friars.
Paul Mullan, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland, said they consider the care of this collection a high priority are delighted to be able to give the project the necessary support to further develop their plans to secure funding.
“This is an incredibly valuable collection, and the outlined plan will provide the proper care and public access to an absorbing historical collection,” he said.
If the funding is successful, the project will refurbish a Victorian stables building at the priory where the collection will be housed.
Professor Gerry McKenna, chair of the Servite Library Project Board, said the HLF support for the plan was ‘excellent news’ for the priory, Benburb and the surrounding area.
“It will allow a heritage treasure to be preserved, developed and made accessible to a wide variety of interest groups from throughout Northern Ireland and beyond,” he added.