Published Wednesday, 24 October 2012
Books by St Augustine, dated 1627. (© Benburb Priory)
The Servite Priory library at Benburb has passed the first round of its bid to secure the material - some of which dates back to the mid 16th century.
They are currently in the process of bidding for nearly £773,000, including development funding of £83,000. The money is needed to protect and open up the rare collection for the public to enjoy.
A number of valuable collections are housed at the priory library - extensive archival material relating to the Servites over the past 150 years, including personal records of 300 friars, and the Servite and Marian collections.
Irish literature and general religious collections are also located at the centre, which is situated seven miles between Armagh and Dungannon.
How the books made it to Benburb is another story. Initially based in Florence, Vicenza or Innsbruck, when the Servite Friars came to London in 1864 several volumes were brought there for safe-keeping during the time of Italian reunification.
Then, in 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.
The planned project will see the collection, currently located across five sites at the priory, moved to the Victorian stables building which will be refurbished to meet conservation requirements.
Paul Mullan, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland, has welcomed the initial award.
"We consider the care of this collection a high priority and we are delighted to be able to give the project the necessary support to further develop their plans to secure funding," he said.
"This is an incredibly valuable collection, and the outlined plan will provide the proper care and public access to an absorbing historical collection."
Professor Gerry McKenna, Chair of the Servite Library Project Board, said: "This is excellent news for the Servite Priory and for 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.
"The associated restoration of the Stables area will also provide a focal point for the many and varied groups associated with the Priory to meet, browse and commune in a conducive setting."