Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Benburb Manor

THOMAS BRUCE, 1st Baron of Clackmannan, married Marjorie Charteris, of Stenhouse, and dying before 1348, had issue, a son,

ROBERT BRUCE, 2nd Baron, who had a charter of Clackmannan from his cousin DAVID II as "dilecto consanguineo".

He wedded Isabel, daughter of Sir Robert Stewart, of Durisdeer and Innermeath, and died before 1389, leaving issue,

SIR ROBERT BRUCE, 3rd Baron, who succeeded his father in Clackmannan, and espoused the daughter of Sir John Scrimgeour, of Dudhope, Constable of Dundee, having had numerous issue, including
DAVID (Sir), his heir;
James, Bishop of Dunkeld;
ALEXANDER, of Stenhouse and Airth, of whom we treat.
ALEXANDER BRUCE was first of the house of AIRTH.

He had numerous charters from the abbots of Holywood Abbey, Dumfriesshire, and from Kings JAMES I and II; and died ante 1487, having wedded firstly Janet, daughter of 1st Lord Livingston, by whom he had no issue.

He married secondly, Margaret, daughter of Sir Malcolm Forrester, of Torwoodhead, and by her had issue,
JOHN, of whom presently;
Alexander, of Brigham and Earlshall;
Edward, of Kinnaird;
Lucas, of Cultmalundie;
Robert, of Auchenbowie;
The eldest son,

SIR JOHN BRUCE, wedded, in 1471, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Mentieth, of Kerse, 1483, vit. pat., having had issue, the eldest son,

SIR ROBERT BRUCE, who succeeded his grandfather in Airth, 1515.

This gentleman married Euphame, daughter of Alexander, 2nd Lord Montgomerie, and sister to Hugh, 1st Earl of Eglinton.

He was killed at Flodden in 1513, having had issue, his elder son,

SIR ROBERT BRUCE, whose eldest son,

SIR ALEXANDER BRUCE, succeeded his father in Airth, 1552, and wedded Janet, daughter of Alexander, 5th Lord Livingston.

Dying in 1600, he was succeeded by his eldest son,

WILLIAM BRUCE, who married Jean, daughter of John, 5th Lord Fleming, and sister to John, 1st Earl of Wigtown.

His youngest and third surviving son,

PATRICK BRUCE, who had the estate of  Newtown and Bothkennar, wedded, in 1627, Janet, daughter of John Jackson, merchant in Edinburgh.

They had a charter of the lands of Newtown in 1627, having had issue, the youngest son,

MICHAEL BRUCE, Minister of Killinchy, County Down, who married Jean, daughter of Robert Bruce, of Kinnaird (and sister of Colonel Robert Bruce, of Kinnaird, and of The Life Guards of CHARLES I, who died of wounds received at Worcester.

Mr Bruce suffered much persecution on religious grounds, and died at Anworth, Wigtownshire, 1693, having had issue, his eldest son,

JAMES BRUCE, Minister of Killyleagh, County Down, who espoused, in 1685, Margaret, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel James Traill, of Tolychin, County Down.

His eldest son,

MICHAEL BRUCE, born in 1686, Minister of Holywood, County Down,  married Mary Ker, and was succeeded by his second but eldest surviving son,

SAMUEL BRUCE (1722-67), Minister of Wood Street Presbyterian Church, Dublin, who married, in 1751, Rose, daughter of Robert Rainey, of Magherafelt.

He left issue, the eldest surviving son,

WILLIAM BRUCE (1757-1841), Minister of 1st Presbyterian Church, Belfast, whose portrait hangs in the Linenhall Library, Belfast, who wedded Susannah, daughter of Robert Hutton.

He left issue, his eldest son,

SAMUEL BRUCE (1789-1845), of Thorndale, County Antrim, who married Annette, daughter of James Ferguson, of White Park, County Antrim.

He had issue, three sons,
William Robert, of Rockford, Co Dublin;
JAMES, of Benburb, of whom presently;
Samuel, of Norton Hall.
JAMES BRUCE JP DL (1835-1917), High Sheriff in 1886, married Mary, daughter of William Thompson MD, of Lisburn, and widow of George Mitchell, in a childless marriage.

THE MANOR HOUSE, Benburb, lies between Armagh and Dungannon in County Tyrone.

In 1877, James Bruce, a wealthy distiller from Belfast and a partner in the firm of Dunville & Co, bought the Benburb Estate in its entirety from the 7th Viscount Powerscourt, and set about establishing his country home in Benburb.

James Bruce made many changes at Benburb in order to build his new manor house, now the Servite Priory: he relocated all the inhabitants on the south side of the village street, knocked down the houses and built on the cleared site.

He built a new police station in the village, the Post Office and a number of houses, one of which is the present Church of Ireland rectory.

James Bruce died in 1917 aged 82.

The estate passed to his brother Samuel who, living in London, immediately proceeded to sell it.
Norton Hall, Gloucestershire, was a private house belonging to Sam Bruce, whose family were from Northern Ireland and in the distillery business. Sam moved out around 1912 to live in London, but his daughter Maye remained at Norton Hall and became commandant of the hospital. She was awarded an MBE for her services in 1918.
Thereafter, Benburb Manor House passed through a series of owners without anyone taking residence until 1940, when the War Office requisitioned the mansion for use as a military hospital.

The Army left the manor-house in 1946 and the estate was purchased on behalf of the Servite Fathers in 1947.

When the Servites took over the estate, now reduced through various Land Acts to about 100 acres, it was originally used as a seminary for training student priests.

At its peak, around 1960, there were as many as 100 priests and students in Benburb.

In 1967 the Servites acquired premises in Dublin, and transferred the students to the city.

The estate at Benburb fell into comparative disuse, with a community of about ten Servites still living in the main house.

In the 1980s the Servites decided to release the buildings, which had been used by the students, for use by the wider community.

A new community group, the Benburb Centre, came into being in 1985.

The Benburb Centre is a registered charity and has become a company limited by guarantee.

It is managed by a voluntary Board, composed of representatives of both communities.

Benburb was originally a Plantation period demesne incorporating a 17th century bawn set on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Blackwater River.

It had been built from 1611 on the site of an earlier castle by Sir Richard Wingfield, 1st Viscount Powerscourt.


William Haldane (1858-1929) was the head gardener at the Manor for about thirty years.

While waiting for a house to be prepared for him in the village, he lived for a short while in the cottage within the walls of the manor-house.

The village house was a substantial three-storey affair, now demolished, more in keeping with the landscape gardener/architect that he was, though the term was not in common parlance at  the time.

William's youngest son was born in Benburb in 1910 (the last of eleven children) and remembers walking with Mr Bruce in the greenhouses and being given a peach to eat.

His trademark was golden yew, which he is said to have planted in prominent positions in every garden he developed, with one over the family grave in St Mark's parish church, Armagh.


The main estates of the Wingfields, Viscounts Powerscourt, were based on the lands granted to Richard, 1st Viscount of the 1st creation.

As part of the plantation of Ulster he received 2,000 acres in County Tyrone, including the Benburb estate.

The present house, by William Henry Lynn, was built in 1887 on higher ground and is surrounded by maintained planted terraces and glasshouses.

This mansion was built for James Bruce of Belfast, after he acquired Benburb Manor from the 7th Viscount Powerscourt.

It is a large rather institutional-looking, red-bricked, gabled building with high pitched roofs and dormers, more akin to an asylum than a residence.

The Stable court and clock tower are to the west. Sold 1917 and in 1948 dedicated as the first Servite priory in Ireland.

Mature trees and lawns. Hermitage Pinetum walled garden, with glasshouses disused across the road.

Gate lodges, east lodge 1887 also by Lynn and late 19th West Lodge.

First published in January, 2012.

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